Mahou Sensei Negima and all related elements and characters are the property and creation of Akamatsu Ken, and the author of this humble piece has made no material profit from it, and never will do.
Ah my Goddess! and all its characters were created by and are the property of Fujishima Kosuke.
Mai Hime and all its characters belong to Sunrise.
All other characters mentioned also belong to their respective copyright holders.
A huge, huge, huge, huge, huge, huge, huge, have I mentioned huge? and I mean huge, new thank you to Shadow Crystal Mage, for polishing this chapter excellently and even adding the Konoka segments, plus… all of the Fuuka-Fumika Les Yay cracks. Sorry to everyone who might find that scandalous or offensive, but frankly, I found them too hilarious to cut them out.
Any non-parodic, non-totally safe similarity between the characters and events featured or mentioned in this story and anyone or anything ever actually seen in real life is a pure coincidence. No joke.
PROMISED HONOR MENTION TO RYUUS 2, who managed to find pretty much ALL the references at the prior chapter. However, not to step on your dare, but you missed the ongoing Ranma ½ reference dealing with Haruna's origins, plus the two Dragon Ball Abridged gags ("DOOOOOODGE!" and "I'M GONNA SKULLFUCK YOU!"). Great job all the same, man! Special thumbs up for recognizing the Sailor Moon character and the Kodomo no Jikan cast!
Everyone else who has reviewed, and those who vote in the poll: Thank you from the bottom of my soul. Hey, one of you voters gets your wish in this chapter!
She stirred and grumbled while pulling the sheets closer to her face, shrinking away from him. He still kept on poking her upper back with a finger, however, and the Freudian implications of such a thing were finally enough to move her to wake up, lazily sitting up at her bed, her pajama shirt's right shoulder slipping down only a bit as she rubbed the cobwebs off her eyes and spitting hair out of her mouth.
"What do you want, Sensei...?" she said, trying to block out visions of…well, Haruna and Chamo-approved imagery.
The boy sitting at her side gestured for her to keep her voice low. "Chisame-san's sleeping..."
"Yeah, and so was I..." she mumbled, her eyelids struggling to stay up. "As a matter of fact, in two minutes I will be deeply immersed in sleeping inactivity again unless you manage to supply me with a good reason to remain awake…" More imagery was dully blocked out. Damn her being made aware of the activities usually related to these hormonal imbalances! Think about Sakurako, Sakurako… damn, that just made it worse…
"Well, it's not often I can talk to you privately..." he said, moving his face closer to her's. "We're always at classes, or with Chisame-san, or you're at your lab... and I've had something to tell you for days... something I can't tell you in front of Chisame-san..."
She recoiled, gaining a distinctive shade of red over her cheeks. She slid back on her butt uncomfortably, her loose pajamas sliding down slightly, edging away from him until she was about to fall off the bed.
"Sensei! I'm, um, honored, but we should not... I mean, I already am... it's not anything serious yet, but... although, I'm in no commitment yet, and if I were ever to... what I mean is, better to end it while it's still early and won't cause any serious harm to her, but still... am I dreaming? I guess so, and I suppose that in case it'll be all right to say yes, so... yes, I accept." She smiled goofily, eyes half-lidded with sleep. "Yes, it must be that dream again..."
He stared at her in complete, absolute puzzlement. "Pardon me?"
Hakase paused, saw he wasn't tackling her and slowly taking off her clothes as she futilely protested before she switched to begging him and agreeing loudly with whatever he was doing to her as usually happened in that hideous, uncomfortable, disturbingly mesmerizing recurring dream, then replied in a helpless cracked voice, "You are not a dream, are you...?"
He only nodded very slowly, his expression filled with concern.
She groaned, running a hand down her face. "I am such an idiot..." The girl shot him a glare. "Forget I ever told you this, and not a single word to anyone, most especially not Chisame and Sakurako!"
"... Satomi-san, are you feeling okay?"
"Yes. Yes, I am," she breathed firmly. "Now, what did you want to talk to me about?"
"Chisame-san's birthday is in one week, isn't it?"
The young female paused again. "... I can't remember. I'm very bad with non-historical dates. I don't even remember my father's birthday."
Then she bit her tongue. "Ooops, just remembered. Last Friday! I'll have to call him tomorrow..."
"You mean you—" he started, but then decided to stay on his intended subject, ruthlessly quashing his urge to yell at her at the unpardonable sin. "Never mind. I assume you haven't anything ready for that date yet?"
"You know Chisame. She's never been one for parties..."
"But she seemed to enjoy herself a lot at the Christmas one..." he argued.
A brief anguished moan came from the bunk above. "No... Haruna... Keep your goddamn hands off my waist... I'm not into that kind of dance..." Chisame's voice gurgled. "Eh, not you too, Hak…" Her voice faded out.
"Define 'enjoy' in that context, please," Satomi asked Negi.
He instinctively cringed. "I... I think I'd prefer not to..."
"What did you do last year for Chisame-san's birthday, Satomi-san?" Negi asked again.
The scientist put a hand on her chin, trying to make memory. "Nothing that I can remember, actually."
"Nothing at all? Not even a small birthday party?"
"No. Her relatives called to congratulate her, and that was all," Hakase reminisced.
"They didn't even visit?" the child's eyes grew rounder.
"She told me she preferred it that way," Hakase lay back on her pillow. She realized her butt was hanging out of her pants and pulled them up. "It seems she doesn't get along with her parents."
"I have no idea. She's never told me, and I value my physical condition far too much to ask."
The teacher sighed, but still didn't fully relent. "Haven't you ever met them?"
"Not at all," Satomi shook her head. "Chisame doesn't even keep any photograph that I know of."
"And her sister?" he insisted. "She has an older sister, doesn't she?"
Satomi paused to ponder, sitting back up. "Yes, she does. I met her once. She came to fill some paperwork for the Dean last year, and attended the parents' reunion."
"What's she like?" Negi asked.
At that point, out of nowhere, Chamo appeared and climbed up onto his right shoulder, nodding eagerly, barely holding his voice down. "Yeah, tell us, Sato-chi! I bet she's really tall and sexy... I mean, pretty, isn't she? Isn't she?"
"Actually, she's very short and flat, freckled and introverted," the teenager answered. "If you ever meet her, you'll probably think she looks more like she is Murakami-san's sister."
"But she's still cute, right?" Chamo asked.
Hakase scratched her nose. "I suppose you could say so. I wouldn't really know. I'm not much of a judge of the aesthetic qualities of my fellow females." She firmly kicked down the Haruna-sounding part of her that she suspected was her embryonic libido telling her Sakurako was hot.
"Is there any way to call her?" Negi sounded hopeful again. "Some phone number? An e-mail address?"
"Are you thinking of reuniting them for Chisame's birthday?" Satomi guessed. "I'm not sure that would be such a wise idea. If they choose to stay apart from each other, I'm sure they have their reasons—"
"Please, Satomi-san!" Negi pleaded, grabbing her hands and starring at her with his best puppy-dog stare. The genius gasped aloud, trapped by the spell of those huge brown eyes. Finally, she nodded in a stiff fashion and jumped off the bed, waddling her way towards Chisame's desk.
Chamo chuckled and elbowed Negi in the ribs. "You've got a real gift, Bro!"
"Gift?" the boy questioned. "Where? And why me? It's not going to be my birthday!"
The ermine puffed. "One of these days we need to have a really long, enlightening conversation on quite a few things."
Negi blinked with confusion before seeing Hakase was grabbing Chisame's laptop. "Ehhhh, Satomi-san, are you sure you should be—"
She held a hand up to silence him as she navigated her way through the computer's databanks, expertly. "Be quiet. You'll wake her up, and if she sees me with my hands on this, not even Chachamaru and Chao will be able to save me." Her lips briefly curved up into a grin. "Eureka."
Negi smiled in a much lighter, naive fashion.
Chamo rubbed his paws together with manic glee. "Hey, are there any cheesecake photos in there?"
Negi blinked. "Why would Chisame take pictures of cake?"
"Really Bro, a long, enlightening talk like Uncle Barney recommends…"
Chisame rolled over in her bed, snorted a few times, and drooled a few drops on her pillow. For some reason, her dreams had managed to get just a wee bit more disturbing.
"Sora!" The huge, deeply tanned, muscle-bound young man walked into the workshop, wiping his oily hands roughly clean with an old piece of smelly cloth. "Yuh have a call! I think it's some weird soundin' lady sayin' sumthin' about your sister!"
Instantly, the young brown haired woman pulled her head out from under the car she was fixing, adjusting her murky glasses clumsily and gasping. "H-Has something happened to Chisame?-!" she asked frantically.
"Dunno," the hulking guy shrugged his wide, rocky, hard shoulders. "Ootaki's talkin' wit' her right now. I don't think she—"
"Thank you, Tamiya-sempai!" she said, nervously bouncing back to her feet, almost stumbling and falling down, only to be caught in the nick of time by the short, black-haired fellow student who had been helping her with the repairs. Blushing, she stood straighter, thanking him with a fast nod of her head. "Th-Thank you, Keiichi-sempai! Um, you won't mind if I—"
Keiichi-sempai just gave her one of his usual sincere but melancholic, tired smiles. "Not at all. Just go. Family always comes first."
"Thanks," she repeated before bolting past Tamiya and into the club's living room. There, their other sempai, a boy almost as tall as Tamiya, but much thinner and with a blond bleached mohawk hairstyle, wearing black biker leather, held the phone while his mouth hung open. "You—You're a GUY?-!-! Umm, err, sorry, dude! I didn't mean all that, then... No, I mean, your voice is nice, but not sexy, for real! Ah, here's Sora-kun. I'll leave you with her. Bye!"
He handed her the phone. "It's some young dude teacher of your sister's. Unless it's really a babe playin' a prank on me. Didn't sound like a guy at all, I think..."
She accepted the phone with a nod, not really understanding his point, and not caring much for once. "Hello? H-Hasegawa Sora here. How's Chisame-chan? Who are you? Is she okay? How much do I have to pay? She's not going to have to transfer to Ohtori, is she?"
"Sora-san?" a small voice with a soft foreign accent said from the other end of the line. "Pleased to meet you! I'm Negi Springfield, your sister's new homeroom teacher..."
She arched her eyebrows. "Did they change Takahata-sensei's post? I hadn't been told... I, um, I mean, pleased to meet you too, Sensei..." Funny, he almost sounded like a child... "To what do I owe this honor?"
She didn't really notice Tamiya and Ootaki hanging around right behind her, shamelessly eavesdropping on her conversation.
"Her birthday? Why, yes, I know it's due in a week..."
"No, I must say I didn't have plans to visit her... Chisame-chan never was the kind of child who cared about birthdays..."
"Me? A-Are you sure, Sensei? Well, it'd be a pleasure... If you're sure she won't protest..."
"Yes... I think I can take two days off from my studies... Yes, for Chisame-chan, I'd do it... I guess it's the least I can do..."
"Same here. W-well, yes, you can count on it. Sure. Please give my regards to Hakase-san as well. Yes. Naturally. A good day to you too."
She hung down with a sigh, her shoulders drooping down.
At that point, even Keiichi was there as well, reaching over to pat her on a shoulder. "Little sisters, huh? I know what's it like."
"Yes, you do... Far much better than me," she miserably sulked. "You've been a much better brother for Megumi-san than I could ever hope to be a sister for Chisame. We haven't even talked in months, and I don't even know where to start..."
"Yuh could start by bein' there," Tamiya gruffed.
She looked way up at him. "Sempai, are you sure you won't mind if I'm absent next week? The finals are almost here, after all..."
The towering man dwarfing her laughed deafeningly. "HAW HAW HAW! We're MEN AMONGST MEN here, Hasegawa! We'll cope just fine! Right, Den-kun? Morisato?"
"No prob!" Ootaki gave a thumbs up.
Morisato weakly imitated his gesture with another bland but honest smile. "Do what you must do, Sora."
She smiled back, then wiped a tiny tear off the corner of her right eye. "Thank you, everyone... You're right; at least this time, I won't fail her again..."
"But bring us cake," Tamiya sternly commanded.
"And photos of that teacher, if she's really a cute babe," Ootaki added. "I still believe she was just kiddin' around wit' me..."
Elsewhere, Negi still stared at his phone with a frazzled expression. "But what does 'sweet-buns' mean?"
The morning of February the Second, the first thing Chisame saw upon waking was a plate of half burnt sandwiches, a smaller plate of misshapen pretzels, and a large glass of orange juice being all but thrust in her face.
"Happy birthday!" Negi, Chamo and Hakase said at the same time, as the metal arms on Satomi's Artifact backpack tossed a rain of confetti all over the bed.
Chisame blinked stupidly, spat some confetti out, and then breathed out, tapping with her fingers on her own face. "So you remembered, huh?"
"Actually, I didn't," Hakase confessed, pointing at their teacher. "He has everyone's birthdays memorized, so I foresee we'll be doing this a lot through the year."
"Well, not to this degree..." he cautioned. "You two would be a special case..."
"That's bad form," Chisame warned dryly, picking a loaf of bread up and examining it carefully, noticing how the edges crumbled into ashes. Clearly Hakase did absolutely no cooking at the Chao Bao Zi. Huh, after all this time, she realized she had absolutely no idea how or why Hakase had a job there. "A teacher shouldn't have favorites."
His eyes grew wider, and he stiffened in place, shaken by such words. "I-I'm not playing any favorites! It's just we live together, so it's only natural for me to—"
"I was kidding, darn it!" Chisame quieted him down with a gesture, then began to reluctantly munch on the sandwich. It tasted horrible, but she forced herself to keep eating. "And besides... I wouldn't mind being a favorite anyway," she quietly mused.
Satomi was puzzled. "Did YOU just say THAT?"
"K-Kidding again," Hasegawa ate a bit faster.
"It's just we've never been anyone's favorites at anything," Satomi laughed, without sounding actually bothered about it. "Even I've always played second place to Chao..."
"Everyone plays second place to Chao at everything. Hell, she'd probably be able to put Evangeline into second place in the big villain department," Chisame huffed, then glared at them. "I don't care about those things, really. By the way, you haven't organized a big noisy party for me with everyone meddling in, have you? I hate those reunions."
"We know, we know," Negi eased her. "We won't do it. We haven't even reminded anyone else about it."
"Not even Kasuga and Kakizaki?" Chisame warily asked.
"Nope," Chamo replied. "I think it's a shame, since Misa-chi getting hot and hammered is probably going to be really fun, but if that's the way you want it..."
"But... you wouldn't be adverse to a small celebration here tonight, would you?" Negi asked shyly.
"Only between us?" the hacker wanted to know.
"Basically, yes..." Satomi said, remembering to keep the surprise unspoiled for now.
Much to her surprise, Chisame actually smiled at that. It wasn't a big smile by any stretch, but it still was warm and kind in its own way.
"Then yes, I'm fine with it. Thank you."
Her three roommates brightened so visibly at that, it stunned her for a short moment. Did it really mean so much for them? Even for Hakase?
Chisame finished with the sandwiches as best as she cold, then reached over for the pretzels. They were hard as rocks, so she resorted to drenching them in the juice. Much to her horror, the liquid corroded them very quickly.
"We cooked breakfast by ourselves, all for you!" Hakase proudly stated.
"I can see," Chisame barely held her urge to cringe back. "How's that waitress job, Hakase?"
Hakase smiled. "Great! Chao's letting me put the salt in the pot now."
"We were about to quit and just buy you something else, but we managed to fix the kitchen in time..." Negi bashfully said.
"The spots at the ceiling will probably take some more work to remove, though..." Chamo added, then laughed, "But it's okay, Sis! No one ever looks at the ceilings, right?"
Chisame gulped the juice down in a single hasty gulp and made her best attempt to still sound civil. "I certainly won't, from now on."
That afternoon, Hasegawa Sora found herself lost at Mahora Academy. Again. She really shold stop forgetting to bring a map.
Nekomi Tech had much smaller grounds, comparatively. Not that Nekomi was actually little at all, but Mahora was a true giant, and despite Negi-sensei giving her instructions on how to reach their dorm over the phone, and the fact she had been there last year, she still was lost as hell, wandering around the campus and growing terribly frustrated.
At one point, she had stopped to ask a still young man in a yellow shirt and black pants, with a bandana around his head and carrying a large backpack with an umbrella tied to it, for directions, but the man hadn't even noticed he actually was at Mahora until she told him so. Then he had brightened up, said something about visiting 'a niece', thanked her and left, heading straight towards the woods.
Sora was not a woman who used to getting angry at all, but that situation really was starting to test her patience. She almost wanted to say something bad, like 'poot'.
Most of the students seemed to have left classes, but they weren't at their usual outdoor and club activities. She reasoned it was due to the incoming tests, but even so, she was annoyed at having no one around to ask, until she almost stumbled into two little nearly identical pink haired girls who seemed to be slacking around. They seemed vaguely familiar.
"Hey! Hey, you!" she called out. "Sorry to disturb you, but you study with Hasegawa Chisame, don't you? Aren't you the Fuyutsuki twins?"
The twins paused in their games to look at her. For a few moments they only gave her a weird stare, until the one with pigtails said, "Ahhh! You're Chisame-chan's sister, aren't 'cha? Yeah, we're the Narutaki sisters! Remember us? I'm Fuuka, and this is Fumika!"
"Hello," the other sister bowed very politely, and Sora bowed in turn. "Um, has something happened to Chisame-chan? It's odd for her to be visited..."
"Oh, no, it's nothing serious..." the young woman replied. "Actually, I, um, only came to bring her something for her birthday..."
Fuuka nearly jumped up in place. "Her birthday! Today? Waiiii, she's so bad! Why didn't she tell any of us?"
"Well, you know how she is, Onee-chan," Fumika piped in. "She isn't too close to anyone..."
Fuuka fumed and crossed her arms. "Unforgivable!" she declared. Then she looked back at Sora. "But it isn't your fault, of course. You want to get to her dorm, don't you?"
"Yes, I'm afraid I kind of got lost..." the young adult admitted.
"You got the right women, then!" Fuuka grinned, poking at her own chest with a thumb. "We're members of the Mahora Grounds Exploration Club, also doubling as the Walking Club, and we're familiar with every inch of this campus! We can get you there in a blink!"
"You would do that for me? Thank you very much!" Sora said.
"Yeah, but not yet. At this hour, Negi-sensei still must be teaching the Baka Rangers their review classes, and Chisame-chan usually hangs around playing with her laptop until he's done. In the meantime, why don't we give you a free tour of Mahora? That way, you won't get lost ever again!" the more adventurous girl offered.
"Won't it take long?" the Hasegawa firstborn said doubtfully.
"Not at all!" Fumika grabbed her by a hand. "Come with us! You'll have a lot of fun! What's the worst thing that could happen?"
In blatant violation of universal laws, there was no ominous rubble of thunder at the blatant tempting of fate.
"Okay, okay, you win..." she relented, following after them at a much more sedate pace. "Lead the way, please..."
Idly, she wondered if Chisame truly had to go through that every day.
Chisame sat at a corner of the classroom in perfect silence, searching through the Web in her laptop while Negi reviewed the so-called Baka Rangers' latest set of tests. She silently hoped they would get it right this time so they could go back home already. A small part of her mind yelled at her because she technically didn't have to stay with Negi, but she figured she shouldn't leave the brat alone with the likes of Haruna and Makie.
Saotome and Miyazaki, like always, were right behind Yue's seat; every once in a while, Haruna would attempt to whisper some answers to Ayase, but Nodoka's discreet yet efficient elbow and Chisame's vigilant deadly glares always managed to stop her in time.
Eventually, however, Negi just smiled at her latest test and nodded. "You got a 73 this time, Ayase-san! Good job! You can leave now!"
Yue actually breathed a sigh of relief as her two friends congratulated her. "See? I told you, if you only studied a bit, you'd ace all those tests!" Haruna told her.
"Hardly worth the effort," the shorter girl commented indifferently, while Nodoka thanked Negi with a lot of eager bows.
Once the librarians were gone, Ku Fei finally dared to ask, "So... How did we do it, Negi-bozu?"
Negi's expression suddenly changed to one of baffled, barely repressed disappointment, and he sheepishly held other four examination sheets up.
Nagase Kaede: 47.
"Ahhh... I came so close..." the ninja sighed.
Ku Fei: 43.
Ku slammed her forehead against her desk. "Bahhh, I'm so tired of this-aru...!"
Sasaki Makie: 36.
"So low!" Makie blushed, tears welling up on her eyes. "I don't get it! I thought I had done better this time!"
Kagurazaka Asuna: 25.
"... Crap!" Asuna screamed. "This can't be right! Brat, you're robbing me! You're doing this on purpose!"
"Yeah, because spending time with you here is so much fun, he wants to keep you here until the cows come home," Chisame droned from the back of the classroom. The ermine lying at her feet, Asuna could swear, almost seemed to chuckle at that.
"Who asked you?" Asuna nearly spat the words out.
"Now, now, let's take this easy..." Negi sighed patiently. "Let's try again, okay? I'm sure you'll do much better now..."
"Why?" Asuna snarked. "You'll stop cheating with the questions?"
"Maybe he'll make all questions '2 plus 2 equals...?'" Chisame deadpanned.
"Har har," the redhead shot back. "What, did a radioactive Iincho bite you this morning?"
"Let it go, Asuna," Ku Fei said before grinning at Negi. "Let's go, Negi-bozu! I won't surrender until I'm the winner-aru!"
"Now that's the spirit!" Negi smiled before handing her another test sheet. "Show us what you can do, Ku-san!"
"Yeah!" the Chinese girl cheerfully said, then took a good look at the sheet... and her face sunk down again. "On second thought...Good thing we aren't on curfew today..."
"So, you're in a Walking Club, huh?" Sora tried to make small talk, something she wasn't any good at, while following the twins across the campus. "That's... It sounds cute, I suppose..."
"Cute? Oh no, it's never 'cute'!" Fuuka protested. "It's a very taxing activity! I take you aren't familiar with the intense world of hardcore walking! Yeah, I can say it by just looking at your legs!"
"Wh-What's wrong with my legs...?" the older girl all but squealed.
"Strolling is a much stricter activity than it looks like, onee-chan, " Fumika said, jumping over her question. "Every year, strollers from around the world have serious, long competitions that leave many of them wrecked and broken shells for life..."
"The Sahara Strolling Tour leaves at least five dead contestants per year," Fuuka nodded grimly.
"The Gotham City After Dark Survival Stroll leaves at least three people clinically insane, twice as many criminally insane, inflicts several with strange phobias, turns most of the participants into plant haters and usually makes a tenth of the survivors irrationally comforted by the sight of dark spandex," Fumika said.
"The Metropolis Man of Steel Sky-Watch leaves several bed-ridden with neck cramps and being hit by cars from not looking when they cross the street!"
"The Manila Exploration Tour racks at least 14 stolen kidneys!"
Sora's cheeks grew purple. "My God! That's... hideous! What kind of school lets you practice such a grueling, dangerous activity?"
They both looked at her.
"Wow, you really bought it, Oneechan?-!" Fumika blinked.
Fuuka giggled. "So far, only Negi-sensei had ever believed the Sahara part!"
Sora blushed deeply and shook her head to herself. "You girls are... are... Forget it, " she ended up sighing. "So, where are we going now?"
"That's the swimming pool," Fumika pointed ahead. "Looks like there's still someone in there."
"Oh! Maybe it's Akira-chan!" Fuuka cooed.
"Sure thing! Let's go talk with her!" Fumika eagerly said, pulling Sora away with herself again.
"GIRLS! I CAN WALK BY MYSELF, REALLY!"
"The way your legs look seems to say otherwise!"
"Honestly, what's so wrong with my legs?-!"
Sora marveled at the size of the gigantic swimming pool she was led towards, looking in all directions as the Narutakis skipped ahead lightly.
"Akira-chan...! Ako-chan...!" Fumika waved. "Hey, you still playing here? You know the club activities are over...!"
Ako lifted her gaze up from the book she was reading. "Um? Oh, hey there, Fuuka-chan, Fumika-chan. Actually, we're studying here. It's just Akira chose this place because it's quiet and relaxing..."
Fuuka's slanty eyes shifted around, as if pointing at the fact Ako was the only one not in a swimsuit and covered by glistening water droplets.
"... What?" Akira asked with some slight nervousness. "A short swim is always good for relaxation and preparation before tackling a study session. Right, Ami-san?"
The nearby girl with short dark hair laughed uncomfortably. "Well, I only agreed to it because Nyamo-sensei approved it!"
The young teacher heading the study session jerked in place. "M-Mizuno-kun, don't say it as if it's my fault!"
"Is there any fault to be placed on anyone, to begin with?" a tall, pale, shapely older girl with long and wavy greenish hair asked very calmly. "It's not like we were doing anything bad..."
Fuuka chuckled cagily. "Still, it's not something the other teachers would approve..."
Nyamo clenched a grin while rubbing a hand JUST A WEE BIT TOO HARD on Fuuka's hair, her voice straining her now-feigned sweetness. "Good thing they won't know, don't you agree, Narutaki-san...?"
"O-Of course..." Fuuka stammered.
"Ahem, " Fumika attempted a save for her sister, "Do... Do you happen to know Sora-san here? She's Chisame-san's sister..."
"Who's Chisame?" the green-haired girl asked. "One of your classmates?"
"Yeah, she's the one who..." Fuuka began, then stopped upon finding she had nothing flattering to say about her. "Um, she's the one with... glasses, and she has... umm... a laptop, I think, and... and..."
Then she turned around to Sora and smiled brightly, "By the way, Sora-Oneechan, this is the core Mahora Swimming Club with coach Nyamo-sensei, plus Akira's best friend Ako-chan, Manager for the Soccer Club!"
"Pleased to meet you, Ako-san," Sora bowed to Akira.
"Actually, I'm Akira."
"Oh, sorry!" Sora bowed to the other tall girl instead. "Excuse me then, Ako-san!"
"She's the Club President, Ichinose Tamao-sempai," Ako sighed. "I'm Ako."
Sora stood in befuddled shame. "... Sorry again!"
"Not your fault, this fic has too many characters," Fuuka glossed over it before pointing at another slender girl with long orange hair and green eyes. "And this is Fenette-sempai, a student in exchange from London's prestigious Ashford Academy!"
"I'm very glad to be with you all here at Area Eleven!" Shirley Fenette cheerfully said before correcting herself, "I mean, Japan!"
A brief awkward silence reigned over the surroundings until Fuuka just moved on. "And finally, that's Mizuno Ami-san, a genius student! She can help even seniors with their graduation tests!"
Ami waved a hand softly. "Come on, I just nudge them a bit in the right direction..."
"Nyamo-sensei," Sora asked the teacher, "How is Chisame doing at swimming classes?"
"Huh? Well, she's reasonably competent," the woman replied. "She could put a bit more effort into it, but she usually gets good performances at the pool."
"Thank God," the college student sighed. "When she was little, she was a dead weight in the water. It took Dad months to teach her how to swim, and it got so bad she even cried whenever she was in contact with the water. Then again, I was much worse. I still barely can swim beyond the doggie paddle..."
Fuuka smirked and got herself ready to discreetly kick her into the pool, but Fumika kicked her in the shin before she could do it.
"Ehhh?" Ako said, wide-eyed, as she enjoyed a bowl of ramen at the Chao Bao Zi along with Akira, Fumika, Fuuka and Sora, the other girls already having departed their own ways. "Chisame's birthday? No joke?"
Sora sighed, absently poking her chopsticks into her bowl's contents. "Yes. I brought her a gift, " she patted her purse with her other hand, "But I'm not even sure she'll like it. Truth be told, I've been a horrible sister. I couldn't blame Chisame if she never wanted to see me again."
"Don't ever say that," the young, petite and pale waitress with her black hair in cute buns served them their drinks. "Nothing, ever, is as important as family. You never should quit on them-yo."
"That's funny coming from you, Chao!" Fuuka grinned with playful insolence. "We've never seen your family! Not even at the parents' meetings!"
Miss Lingshen laughed it off. "Believe me, they would come if they could, but they are... far too busy elsewhere. It's okay. The Dean understands."
"Chao, could you help us with a last minute party for Chisame-chan?" Fumika asked.
"Are you sure that's what she'd like?" Chao asked back. "You know how much she values her privacy and tranquility."
Fuuka pouted. "It's still mean, not telling anyone..."
"Sora-san, I've heard you belong to a Motor Club, don't you?" Chao sat at the other side of the table, leaving the other tables to be attended by Satsuki. She could use some update on the Nekomi side of things. "I'm an aficionado of motors myself-yo!"
"Well, it's not a very big club," Sora laughed bashfully. "It's just the five of us now."
"Five?" Chao asked, with her curiosity piqued.
"Yes. Me, Tamiya-sempai, Ootaki-sempai, Morisato-sempai and Fujimi-sempai," the young woman answered. "Fujimi-sempai is the club's president, but she's almost always out in serious competitions. We still aren't up to that level. In her absence, Tamiya-sempai acts as our leader. He looks like a very scary man at first, but he's actually... uhhh..." her voice trailed off before unconvincingly ending, "... Nice."
"I see," Chao nodded with some concern. Fujimi Chihiro, but no Belldandy. At that point of the timeline, it was wrong. Very wrong.
Once the meal was finished, Akira stood up and thanked Sora with a formal bowing. "Thanks a lot for your company. We understand Chisame's desire for privacy, but would we be a bother if the two of us dropped down tonight to congratulate her?"
"I don't think she'd mind..." Sora bowed back. "Thanks. I'm relieved to see Chisame has such good friends."
Once she and Ako were gone, Fuuka patted her stomach. "Ahhhh, that was some good food! Now, it's time for the next stop!"
"Are you sure we can't go see Chisame yet?" Sora asked again.
"Nope! Knowing Asuna, Negi-sensei must STILL be stuck with her!" the mischievous twin giggled. "C'mon, I promise this will be the last stop of the afternoon! We'll go visit another true Mahora landmark, the Tatsumiya shrine!"
"It's always good to ask the gods for your loved ones' wellbeing in their birthdays!" Fumika added.
Sora thought it over. "I suppose it's a nice thing to do, yes..."
"Then let's go! We know a good shortcut!" Fuuka almost dragged her away once more.
Chao waved them goodbye, dropping her bright wide smile down as soon as they were gone.
She walked to a corner behind the counter and secretly pulled her cellphone out. "Natsuki-chan? It's me. I have good reasons to think something may be about to happen near the shrine. Drop what you're doing and go that way, ne? Yes, I'll give you some coordinates. It should be happening around that point, although I hope I'm getting it wrong..."
It already was very late, late, when Asuna finally managed to squeeze a 60 in and pass one of Negi's tests. Chisame had the impression Negi had only gone easy on her, however.
All the other Baka Rangers, even Makie, had managed to leave long ago. Asuna visibly felt so miserable and frustrated she didn't even object when Negi offered to escort her to her dorm. She only muttered as she dragged her feet following her classmate and teacher around; Chisame had never thought she'd see the day when Asuna actually walked slower and grumpier than her. For some reason, it did feel kinda good.
Negi seemed to want to strike a conversation with Asuna, but also looked wary as to how to start it, and Chisame naturally wanted no part on it. The three of them walked along in an uneasy silence, with Chamo being the only one going at a steady, playfully skipping pace. However, before long, they crossed paths with Akira and Ako.
"Oh, hello, girls!" the boy greeted.
"Good afternoon, Sensei!" Ako greeted back, with Akira bowing her head in concordance. "For you too, Asuna-chan, Chisame-chan."
"Hey," Asuna lazily lifted a hand up.
"Yeah," Chisame said, sounding even more apathetic.
"Happy birthday, Chisame," Akira softly said, with another bowing, this one directly devoted only to the hacker. Those three words were enough to make Chisame's face go pale, and for her to snap at her teacher.
"Sensei! You promised!"
"Today is your birthday, for real?" Asuna curiously asked, her attention revived.
"O-Of course not!" Chisame barked.
"It's okay, please take your hands off Sensei's neck..." Ako asked. "It was your sister who told us..."
Now that made Chisame to drop both her hands and her jaw down. "M-My sister?-! Is Sora here?-!"
"We just ate with her," Akira replied. "We left her with the Narutakis at Chao's place."
Chisame groaned, allowing her shoulders to droop down. "Great, just my luck. The twins. I'll be amazed if all the school doesn't know it yet."
"What's so bad about everyone knowing about your birthday?" Asuna rolled her eyes. "Man, you're weird."
"Nothing of your business," Chisame hissed as she set up course for the Chao Bao Zi. "I'm going to see Sora before she manages to embarrass me in front of everyone."
Negi gulped, then followed her closely, managing to wave goodbye to the sport girls before dashing after his roommate. After a brief moment of hesitation, Asuna went after them as well. "Hey, wait for me! I want to meet that sister of yours!"
After they were gone, Ako turned to Akira with a soft giggle. "Chisame is very different from her sister, isn't she?"
"Yes. Her sister is actually likable," Akira said dryly.
"Come on, Akira-chan, that's plain mean..."
Elsewhere, at the closed doors of the Tatsumiya shrine, Fuuka knocked again, this time even harder.
"MANA-CHAAAAN!" she called out. "SHIHO-CHAAAAN! It's us!"
"Forget it, Oneechan..." Fumika pitifully pleaded. "They aren't here, that much is obvious..."
"Bah!" Fuuka turned around crossing her arms. "Do you mean coming all the way up here was nothing but a waste of time? Ohhhh, that makes me mad! I'm going to give Mana a good piece of my mind tomorrow!"
Sora looked at her wristwatch. "Ummm, girls, it's been a really fun afternoon, but it's getting late, and I really want to meet Chisame again..."
"I suppose it is getting dark, yeah," Fuuka sighed in resignation before going back down the temple's front steps. "Let's get going! Negi-sensei is bound to be back at home by now! Ooh, look Fumika! They still haven't closed off the spot where we were fu–"
"Onee-chan!" Fumika cried, blushing as she cast sideways looks at Sora.
The college student sighed with relief as she followed the two small girls into the narrow path through the forest and leading back into the campus. It felt like those girlies had actually drained her (scarce to begin with) energy.
Fumika must have been reading her expression with notable accuracy, because she casually whispered to her, "Don't feel bad. It's always tough to keep up with Oneechan."
Sora gave her an awkward smile. "Sorry if I haven't been too enthusiastic. I've never been too much of a 'fun' person."
"Nah, never mind," Fumika consoled her. "You're fun in your own way. Much like Chisame-chan."
Sora patted her head fondly. "Thanks. That's something I don't hear often."
Then they heard another rather unusual thing.
Fuuka had just screamed in panic way ahead of them.
"Oneechan!" Fumika immediately raced ahead, Sora clumsily stumbling behind her to try and stop her just in case. But the small student was too fast for her, at least until she stopped, frozen on her tracks, looking up in absolute terror. Sora's gaze followed hers, and then she gasped aloud in shock as well.
At the middle of the lonely road, a huge black shadow swirled and twisted around a tiny obscured figure surrounded by several dozens of thick, beefy vines and roots, all of them snaking around and lashing out, several of them holding a now unconscious Fuuka up like a ragdoll. It held her spread-eagled, limbs twined by the appendages…
The diminutive inhuman thing focused its red, sharp and hungry eyes into Fumika and Sora, the latter instinctively pulling the paralyzed girl towards herself, trying to shield her with her arms.
Then a green whip shot itself towards them.
"What's so hideous about that sister of yours anyway?" Asuna asked while walking behind Negi and Chisame, arms crossed behind her neck, her school briefcase hanging from a hand.
Hasegawa growled while leading the way through the narrow forest path. Yotsuba and Chao, of course, had told them the way Sora and the twins took after leaving. She only hoped they could catch up to them before too much damage could be done to her reputation. "You wouldn't understand."
"Why? Because I don't have a family?" Asuna narrowed her eyes.
Chisame flinched a bit, remembering Kagurazaka's words during that day at the fair. "I don't mean to offend, but... yeah, that's why. Sora's one of those people who mean well, but are so bland and useless they always make things worse than they were. Back when we were children, everyone used to think she should have been the younger sister instead of me. Growing up, she was of absolutely no help for me, ever."
"That's ridiculous!" Asuna snapped. "I'd have killed for a family of any sorts, even a 'bland' one. I thought she was an abusive witch or something, the way you reacted."
"She always embarrasses me. Always," Chisame shuddered. "She tells people all my secrets without even batting an eye. What kind of underwear do I prefer, the stupid things I did when I was a toddler, the whole nine yards."
Asuna took a mental note of questioning that girl in depth later before casually saying, "Meh. You always get all dramatic about of everything. Sometimes you're as bad as Itoshiki-sensei!"
Somewhere, Itoshiki sneezed. Tears welled up in his eyes. "I'm in despair! The fact this is my only appearance in this chapter leaves me in despair!"
"Me?" the other teenager asked. "Excuse me, but who's the one always getting into over the top fights with the Class Rep?"
"That's always Iincho's fault!" Asuna reacted.
Then she briefly stopped and looked back, as if trying to spot something between the trees.
"Kagurazaka-san?" Negi asked her. "What's wrong?"
"Huh? Oh, nothing. Nothing," Asuna started walking again. "For a second, I had a hunch we were being watched, but it's most likely just my imagination."
Again, universal law was broken at the distinct lack of ominous wind blowing suddenly at the announcement.
"Ah, okay," Negi said. "Chisame-san, I understand relatives can be somewhat trying at times, but it sounds like your sister truly loves you. You two should try to get closer..."
"If she truly loved me, she wouldn't have left for another city and come to visit only once a year," Chisame replied. "I'll bet it's just her hypocritical sense of self-worth kicking in again. Honestly, she's so spineless; she can't even admit she doesn't actually give a crap about me. That's why she won't think twice about embarrassing me. But no, as she does it, she'll have to rant and whine on how pitiful a sister she is, and how she should do more... but guess what? She never does! I bet she has just dumped one of her sob stories on being unable to do it on the Narutakis!"
"Maybe she's just unable to do it," Asuna scowled.
"And why would that be?" the other girl retorted.
"Have you ever been an older sister? Do you know how taxing can it be?" Asuna spoke defiantly. "Hell, even though Konoka's so self sufficient, acting as her de facto older sister is still tough. You must be strong but not distant, supporting but not spoiling, and it's a hella hard balance to get right! I can't blame anyone who can't keep that up, and you certainly are old enough to not need a babysitter anymore!"
Chisame paused, giving the slightly intimidated Negi a brief look. "I... know what's an older sister's job like, actually. Wanna talk about babysitters?" she told Asuna. "I'm Hakase's, and that was even before Sensei arrived. So don't even try to tell me I have no idea how does it feel, because I have to do it even for people who aren't my fam—"
She stopped abruptly, noticing the sudden pale shade of Negi's face, and bit her tongue. "Sorry. I went overboard there," she admitted. "Sensei, for what it's worth, you and Hakase..." she struggled to get the words out, "... are practically my family here."
Negi slowly smiled back. "Thank you. The feeling's mutual."
Asuna looked back and forth between them and sighed. "Sorry. I guess I talked too much, too. You're right, it can't be easy to take care of the Prof."
"You have no idea," Chisame sighed. "She leaves her underwear everywhere, has no sense of privacy, used to walk around in nothing but her panties until Sensei came on..." No one noticed Chamo's nose had just exploded into a shower of blood. "She never cleans up, and her experiments... God, don't get me started on her experiments..."
"You're doing it," Asuna observed.
"Doing what?" Chisame asked.
"Acting like an older sister. You're spilling all the beans on Hakase, much like you accuse your sister of doing to you, " Kagurazaka said, not missing a beat.
Chisame's face paled in horrified realization. "I-It's different! Everyone already knows Hakase is like that!"
"Maybe you sister's assuming we know that much about you, too, " Asuna pointed out.
Chisame fell silent. Hell briefly experienced a snow storm.
Asuna smiled. "Truth be told, however, I've already learned a whole lot about you without even actually needing her."
Chisame gave her a wary look. "Are you intending to flatter or to insult?"
"Both," Asuna laughed. Negi couldn't help but stifle a chuckle of his own. Chisame felt like she should be angry at them, but for some reason she couldn't quite muster that emotion. The snowstorm turned into a hailstorm.
Then, however, Negi tensed all of a sudden, grabbing his staff tightly as some steps were heard coming from between the bushes. Asuna looked into that direction as well. "Oh, it's just you, Fuuka, Fumika. You two weren't doing inappropriate again, were you? Is that your sister, Chisame?" she pointed at the short young adult with them, before noticing something was very, very wrong about them.
"Sora!" Chisame gasped, nervously reaching over for the Pactio card in her breast pocket out of instinct. Some time later, she'd curl up into a fetal position up realizing the implications of having such an instinct in the first place.
Sora and the twins were covered all over by green spots darkening their skin, giving them a sickly, deranged appearance matching their absent, yet hungry and primal eyes. Their clothes were in disarray, and their shoulders hung down as they walked in a stiff, jerky fashion, stalking towards Negi's small group.
"Chisame..." Sora finally spoke with a throaty, inhuman intonation, licking her dry lips. "Happy Birthday... Come and give your Oneechan a big hug..."
She leaped ahead.
Negi sprang aside to save the momentarily stunned Chisame, to push her out of her deranged sister's path, but before he could cover the short distance from her, he saw Asuna jumping and pulling his roommate out of harm's way instead.
Sora growled, stopping abruptly and jerking her head aside to look at the two younger girls, now with bloodshot eyes.
"No wonder you didn't want to see her!" Asuna exclaimed. "She's a total wacko!"
"She... She isn't normally like that!" Chisame claimed, then pulled Asuna further back with herself as the twins lunged for her.
The Narutakis grumbled at their failure, then assumed identical ninja-like fighting stands.
"Why are they standing on one leg and waving their arms around?" Negi asked, confused.
"What the hell is wrong with you?" Kagurazaka asked them. "Are you spending too long with Kaede?"
"We'll take Kaede-neechan later..." Fuuka started. She licked her lips, leering. "Slowly… repeatedly… from all directions…"
"She'll be a great asset for the Master!" Fumika finished. "Her endurance… her body…"
"Kagurazaka-san, be careful!" Negi shouted, slowly aiming his staff at the attackers. "They're possessed, and I doubt they'll listen to reason!"
"Possessed?" Asuna asked. "No, c'mon! Is this some kind of prank? Because I'm not finding it funny at all!"
Sora roared as threateningly as a small and (normally) weak young woman with frail vocal cords could, and other than her cracking at mid-roar, it was actually effective. She charged ahead again, making Chisame yelp, only to run into Asuna's left hook.
"Look, I don't care if you're Chisame's sister, but you aren't getting your drunk college hands on me! Possessed, my foot! I bet you've just taken one beer too many and you got the twins drunk too! Do you realize you'll get you sister in a trouble over this?"
"DAMMIT, SIS, THE BRO'S BEING SERIOUS!" Chamo shouted. "Don't provoke them like that, or you'll get yourself killed!"
The forest fell into a sudden sudden silence then. Asuna's pigtails stood up like something out of a surreal SHAFT anime. Chisame groaned and slapped a hand on her face. Negi whimpered a little, his eyes becoming an 'X' shape on his face. Even the infected girls looked in an odd way at the ermine.
"... Whoops!" Chamo gulped, covering his mouth with his paws. "Never mind me! I haven't said anything at all, because I can't speak! Er, squeek! Squeak squeak squeak!"
Asuna tilted her head back to him, her eyes growing to legendary proportions. "So it WAS you after all!"
Chisame slid to his side and slammed a foot down on him. "Dammit, weasel! She wasn't looking at you! She didn't know for sure yet!"
"I'M DEEPLY SORRYYYYY!" he squealed with an agonized tone.
"My God, I've walked into the Forest of Hell!" Asuna backpedaled away from everyone, balling her fists. "Stay away from me, all of you! First one to come closer loses all their teeth!"
Ignoring the defiant posture, Sora, Fuuka and Fumika rushed at her at once. Chisame vainly tried to grab her sister and pull her back, failing and falling on her face. Asuna stood her ground, lifting her fists up to strike, but they were so fast, they almost were on her before she could fully react...
Then she heard the twerp's voice again.
"RASTEL MASKIL MAGISTER!"
Then Asuna noticed all three of her incoming attackers screeching to a halt, looking back at Negi, who shouted a few words in a weird language... Greek? Latin? Asuna guessed... and then shot a huge burst of wind out his staff... or so it looked, it was hard to if any of it say was even actually happening or not...
The compressed air threw Fuuka, Fumika and Sora several feet away, also blowing Asuna's skirt up in the process. She yelped, then quickly pushed it back down. But not fast enough to avoid Chamo from pointing up at her and yelling, "BEAR PANTIEEEES!"
She blushed scarlet, then swung a kick that slammed him against a tree. "Keep your mouth and eyes shut, freak of nature!"
Chisame sighed, half thankful for the brat not resorting to the stripping spell for once, half deciding to just go for broke. As if there was any point on keeping fooling Kagurazaka anymore. "Adeat!" she said while whipping her Pactio card out.
Asuna stared, dumbfounded, at the typical Mahou Shoujo transformation unfolding before her eyes. She successfully kept herself from snickering upon seeing Chisame in her post-transformation dress, and asked, "Do you... Do you know you give a full on peep show when you do that?"
Chisame's face reddened. "YES! YES, I DO!"
Negi was just looking aside uncomfortably. The fact he managed to keep an eye on the grunting, badly recovering twins and college student while doing so helped.
"So, what's the deal here?" Asuna demanded. "I know, you're mutants, aren't you? That Magneto guy in the news sent you to infiltrate the Academy, and then—"
"Try again," Chisame grunted.
"Invading aliens," Asuna said. "Crap, that weird Suzumiya chick was actually right!"
"Again," Chisame asked.
"Robots? That's it; Hakase built you to take over the world, and that's why you live with her, and—"
"Superheroes! Your superheroes who still don't have that Edna Mode's number!"
"DOES THIS LOOK LIKE SPANDEX!-?-!-?"
"... We are living in a computer simulation, and next you'll tell me I must pick the red pill or the blue one? Wait, It's all a dream! I need to check my bells–!"
"You watch far too many movies!"
"Oh, crap! You're actually my daughter from the future, aren't you? THAT'S why we look so similar–!"
"Okay, now you're just being stupid!" Hasegawa snapped.
The twins groaned and fell into a sighting stance again, while Sora still rubbed her aching head. That was Chisame's cue to leave Asuna behind and stand next to Negi, aiming her scepter at the pink haired girls. "Don't even think about it!"
Asuna curiously peeked over Chisame and Negi's shoulders. "Let me see if I'm getting this right now. This is an exorcism sort of thing? They're possessed by the Devil or something?"
"The Devil? Don't be—" Chisame stopped in mid sentence, then asked Negi with some concern, "It's not the Devil, is it?"
"Not unless we're really unlucky," he said, breathing in and out, keeping his staff zeroed on their adversaries. "Chisame-san, call in Misora-san. I don't know how to purge evil influences out yet, but she does."
"Wait, Misora's in on this too?" Asuna agitatedly asked. "So it's an exorcism after all! Wait, is there anyone else in on this? Iincho? She's crazy enough for it to—"
"It's only Chiu-chi, Sato-chi, Miso-chi and Misa-chi," Chamo said, pulling himself back to the scene.
"What? Misa too? How does she fit into that? Everyone else's weird enough, but Misa?" the redhead asked. She paused. "Oh, wait, never mind."
"Remind me to hurt you later," Chisame grumbled, placing her Card on her forehead and trying a telepathic call. But she felt nothing. "Sensei, I don't think it's working..."
Chamo sniffled the air. "I can feel a strong magical presence near us," he warned. "Maybe it hasput a barrier around the area. If that's the case, we won't be able to communicate with telepathy."
"Great!" Chisame shook her head. "What do you think, Sensei? Do we knock them out and get the hell out of here?"
"Chisame-san! Sora-san is your sister!" Negi gasped.
"Which means I have violent fantasies against her I've wanted to enact since I learned I wasn't supposed to hit people as a kid…I mean, we take them with us!" Hasegawa pointed out. Then they heard a yelp, and saw a long, thick vine sprouting up from the ground, wrapping itself around Asuna's right ankle and lifting her up high into the air.
"Yeah, they really ARE bear panties!" Chamo observed as her skirt flipped down.
"Stop gawking at my damn panties and get me down!" Asuna roared, wildly kicking around. "Brat! Be useful for once!"
Then another, smaller vine sneaked up wrapping itself around her face, and it exploded into a rain of green spores showering her all over. Asuna coughed while Negi and Chisame gasped below, their attention distracted long enough to allow the Narutakis and Sora to retreat back to relative safety.
Asuna angrily spat some bitter spores out of her mouth and madly kicked at the vine holding her. "Let me go, you stupid thing! Now! NOW!" she growled, finally kicking hard enough to snap it by half. "No—OWWWW!" she fell hard on her butt. "Dammit, why me?-!"
"Sora!" Chisame tried to run after her sister. "Sora, don't—" she was abruptly grabbed by Negi and pulled back, right before three more vines jumped up at the spot where she had been moments before. More and more vines followed suit, soon surrounding them and Asuna from all sides. "Damn it..." Chisame gulped, grabbing her scepter tighter. "At a forest, not much I can do... nothing electronic around to manipulate... Sensei?"
He nodded firmly. "Leave it to me, Chisame-san."
Negi grunted as he kept on blasting his way ahead, both girls and Chamo running close after him, Chisame also firing from her scepter at any random approaching vines or roots, but not making that much of a dent on the whole. The whole forest seemed to have turned against them, plants sprouting out of almost everywhere to lash at them as far as they could reach over to.
"We've offended the forest spirits, haven't we?" Asuna cried. "Crap, next it's going to be car-sized giant wolves, isn't it?-!"
Under other circumstances, Negi would have grabbed Chisame and flown away with her and Chamo, but they couldn't leave Asuna behind, and his staff couldn't support the weight of all of them put together. That disastrous experiment at trying to fly with both Chisame and Hakase a few weeks back had made him sure of that. And even if he dared, he wasn't about to risk his students on a flight of doubtful maneuverability through a forest with things trying to kill them on the way.
Oddly enough, in any case, the ermine observed as he ran, Asuna seemed to be doing much better at dispatching their vegetable enemies than either one of them. Her wild punches and kicks ripped the pieces of forest life apart as soon as they connected, and unlike those hit by Chisame and Negi, they didn't regenerate afterwards.
Even in the panic of flight, his eyes sparkled greedily. "Bro!" he called out. "These things seem to be very vulnerable to Asuna-neechan for some reason! What if you make a Pactio with her? Then I'm sure we'd clear this out in a blink!"
"What are you talking about?-!" Asuna yelled while slapping a branch swinging its thorns at her aside. "I understand less and less with each frickin' moment!"
"Chamo, this isn't a time to think about that!" Negi panted, starting to get tired after casting so many spells in such quick succesion. "We can't stop for anything!"
Then, abruptly, a large tree plummeted down right before them, blocking their way. Just as soon, several nearby bushes shook around, producing even longer vine tendrils that grabbed them by the wrists and ankles immediately, forcing them to stay in place despite their struggling.
"... Well, maybe we can stop for this," Negi admitted.
"Lemme go, lemme go, lemme go!" Asuna clenched her teeth, pulling her hands so hard she broke the tendrils holding her. "No way I'm dying like a victim of a dirty Z-list movie!" Stubbornly, she took hold of the vines holding Chisame's hands and pulled on them hard. When they didn't bulge, she bit them instead; chomping so hard the tendrils pulled back bleeding thick, blobby green. Asuna spat the disgusting flavor in her mouth. "My God, this is awful!"
Chamo noticed the bite wounds weren't healing, either. "Bro, really, she can help us outta this jam! Just take us somewhere with no plants around and let me draw a circle!"
"We're at the middle of a Bill Gates-damned forest!" Chisame yelled. "Where do you expect to find someplace like that?-!"
Then two shots rang out, their bullets shooting a duo of moving roots approaching them. Negi looked in the direction of the gunshots, hoping to find Mana and Shiho, but instead, he, Chamo and the girls found a svelte young woman in a tight, black leather biker's outfit, her head fully covered by a driving helmet, a strange looking revolver in each hand, standing on a large rock, dominating the area around them.
"I know a place," the stranger said curtly. "Follow me."
"Wha? How? Who in the world are you?" Asuna asked. "Are you behind this? Why should we—?"
"All I care about is she's human and she hasn't shot us yet!" Chisame grabbed Negi by a hand and ran after the newcomer, pulling him free from the tendrils.
"And watta curves!" Chamo drooled, racing after them in turn. "Whoa, MOMMA!"
Asuna sighed, stomped down on another root, and rejoined the escape. "I wonder if Konoka's dinner is getting cold..."
"I wonder where Asuna-chan is?" Konoka wondered. "Her dinner is going to get cold."
Setsuna kept glancing at the clock, trying not to eat too quickly. If she finished her food… before Asuna got there… It would be too much like having had dinner with Konoka! It'd be like… A DATE! Motoko-sempai had warned her about this! Like how she'd had dinner with her landlord and his wife and they'd ended up breaking their marriage vows…
"Eh? Setsuna-san, why aren't you eating?" Konoka asked, looking at Setsuna's plate. She looked distressed. "Isn't it… isn't it any good?"
"N-no!" Setsuna exclaimed frantically. "It's delicious! Absolutely delicious! I just… I just don't want to finish all the food before Asuna-san gets here!"
"But… you hardly touched it…" Konoka said, looking depressed now. Itoshiki-approved levels of depression. "There's too much salt, isn't there? That's it…"
"N-no!" Setsuna said, taking a big serving and sticking it in her mouth, chewing exaggeratedly and making loud appreciative noises. "It's great Konoka-san!"
At Konoka's wide, happy smile, Setsuna, her defenses already penetrated by Konoka's armor-piercing effect, took another bite…
Questions started to fly as the teacher, his students and his ermine ran following the lead of the gun-toting biker, the mysterious girl shooting her way through the crazed forest, Negi and Chisame helping with backup fire.
"Who exactly are you?" Negi began, blasting a wild bush apart with a gust of wind magic.
"Why are you doing this?" Asuna asked next.
Still nothing, and the gunslinger only kept on firing as if they weren't even there.
"What happened to my sister?-!" Chisame demanded then. Now that actually made their rescuer talk again.
"She's been contaminated by the spores of that 'Orphan'," she explained dryly.
"Orphan?" Asuna blinked, then snapped, "Hey, why are you blaming me for that?-! I never had even seen that girl before!"
"Kagurazaka-san, 'Orphan' is a term for a monster of unknown source," Negi patiently elaborated. "Since they have no known origins, our community saw fit to label them that way. I don't approve, of course, but—"
"And how do you know all that?" Asuna snorted. "Read about it in your nursery rhyme books?"
"Isn't it obvious, you idiot?" the biker told her. "He's a mage," she added bitterly, with distaste creeping into her voice.
"What? This twerp? No way!" the redhead replied.
Chisame held back her urge to slam the scepter on her head. "Weren't you watching him casting spells at left and right now, Baka? Do you need any more proof?"
"Then you're a mage too?" Asuna was even more incredulous now. "Crap, Konoka WAS right!"
"What? Why, When, How—!" Chisame started, then hissed, "No, I'm NOT a mage!"
"You're using magic," Asuna pointed out as she jumped over a log.
"I'm not a mage!" Hasegawa protested, even louder. "Anyway, what can we do to save her, then?"
The biker shrugged callously. "Beats me. I'm not a mage either".
Asuna still puzzled over it all. "So, if you're using magic, but you're not a mage… Oh my gosh! The clothes! The wand! The nudity! It all makes sense!"
Chisame realized were this might be going ,and tried to head her off. "No, I'm not a Magical Gir–"
"You're a sex ninja!"
Chisame nearly tripped, fell and broke her neck (which would have been a wonderful release). "HELL NO! DO I LOOK LIKE… like… um… like… DO I LOOK LIKE MIDO-SENSEI?-!-?-!-?-!-?-!-?-! OR ARAI-SENSEI?-!-?-!-?-!-?-!-?-! OR KAEDE!-?-!-?-!-?-!-?-!"
Negi blinked. "Huh?"
"Nothing!" Chisame cried. "Focus! About to die, running! Stick with that!" She ignored the sounds Chamo was making. How, exactly, could creepy giggling leer?
"Like I said, Misora-san could heal her if we bring Sora-san to her," Negi panted. "But first, we have to find and destroy the source of this event, the 'Orphan' itself."
Finally, they reached the wide rocky shores of a secluded lagoon. Negi saw the rider's point; the barren area was large enough to set a barrier and then a Pactio circle without being interrupted. However, before they actually step in there, more vines sprouted up from below, blocking their way. The first ones lashed ahead, a few of them managing to break through the stranger's helmet, spraying more of the spores into her face as the rest of them were binding and squeezing her arms and wrists, forcing her to drop her handguns. They were, of course, also crisscrossing her chest, emphasizing the pointiness of her breasts and making Chisame and Asuna very conscious of their weight and figure.
"FLANS SALTATIO PULVEREA!" Negi shouted, pulverizing the vines up with his incantation and jumping ahead to catch the now suddenly groggy, falling girl in his arms. "Hey! Are you okay... Kuga-san?" he blinked.
Chisame looked down at her after finishing blasting the remaining vines down. "Hey, yeah. She's Kuga Natsuki, that sempai we saw at the Chao Bao Zi when you were starting your term here..."
The girl jerked her own face aside, coughing violently, green spots quickly spreading across her fair skinned cheeks. "D-Drop me down, you fools... Kaff!... I've been infected... Soon I'll be as crazy as the others...!"
"Are you sure? Because I doubt you'll never top Itoshiki-sensei's class," Asuna said, passing a hand over her own face. "I was sprayed by those things too, and I'm fine..." She paused, concerned. "Because I am fine, right?"
"See, that's what I'm talking about!" the ermine said. "I don't know how, Sis, but somehow, you seem to be immune to those things! That's why you have to make a Pactio with the Bro before we're all dead meat!"
"A Pactio?" Asuna was intrigued now, as she and Negi carried a still protesting Kuga-sempai into the relative safety of the rocky area, Chisame walking closely behind them. "Wait, I think I'm getting it. That's what gave you those spiffy magical powers, right, Chisame? And now I can get powers like those, too?"
"Basically, yes," Hasegawa nodded in a jaded way. Kyon would have been proud.
Asuna grinned. "Awesome! Then let's do it!"
"That's it!" Chamo cheered up, but Negi only blushed and Chisame made an awkward face.
Natsuki coughed again, then said, "You really don't know anything, you imbecile. To establish a Pactio, you need to kiss a mage."
Asuna's grin froze on her face, just as her features became stark white. "A... kiss...?-!"
Chamo waved a paw. "What's a tiny kiss or two between good, close friends, anyway...?"
Asuna's right foot met his stomach again. "I DON'T REMEMBER EVER BEING GOOD CLOSE FRIENDS WITH ANY OF YOU!-! OH MY GOSH, YOU ARE SOME KIND OF SEX NINJA! THIS IS JUST THE START!"
"Huh?" Negi asked, confused
Chisame actually looked distressed then. "Then... Then you won't do it?" she asked with a suddenly strangled tone.
Asuna crossed her arms, closed her eyes and humphed, turning around. "Why should I? Do you think I'm some sort of perverted cradle-robber? I'm not Iincho or that Matoi girl!"
"It's not about that!" Chisame claimed, giving a step toward her. "I'm not asking you to marry him and settle down with three kids! But this is a life or death matter, and we can't do it alone! Much less now, with Kuga-sempai down!"
Natsuki coughed from the rock she had laid onto, her hands clawing around madly. "I can feel it already! Whatever you're going to do, do it soon! In a few minutes I'll be jumping for your throats!"
"Will you be doing it with new tentacles you're going to be growing?" Chamo asked eagerly.
Asuna doubted, grimacing deeply. "You can't ask such a thing from me, all of a sudden! It's all completely absurd! One minute we're walking down the forest, the next it's 'Hey, kiss a child and become a Magical Girl or you die'? Why do I have to stand under that pressure? It's unfair!"
"Screw your unfairness!" Chisame yelled at her, at her wits' ends, despite Negi's gestures for her to calm down. "My sister's out there possessed by that thing! I'm not going to lose her just because you don't care enough about your own life! If you need to do a Pactio, you'll do it even if I have to rub your mouth against his!"
Asuna stood defiantly against her. "I'd like seeing you try! And besides, what's with the loving sister act after you badmouthed her so much?"
"I... I..." her classmate suffered of a loss for words for a few seconds before stammering, "N-No one would be callous enough to family to let that happen to them, no matter what! You said you'd do anything for a family! You must imagine how does it feel, to risk of losing a relative! I'm not on the best of terms with her, but still—! Still—!"
"Please, Kagurazaka-san..." Negi pleaded. "Think of the twins and Kuga-san, too..."
Asuna's brow quivered a few times. "Aren't you a bit too eager about it...?"
"N-N-Not at all!" he gasped.
She stared down at him. "Oh, so I'm that disgusting to kiss? What, I don't have enough zits for your tastes?"
"LEAVE MY SKIN CONDITIONS OUT OF THIS!" Chisame roared.
"God, I want to kill you even more now...!" Natsuki was banging her fists down on the rock.
Negi fought to find the right words. "It isn't that! You're a very appealing person, Kagurazaka-san! But I'd never dare kissing a student unless it's absolutely necessary! But right now, it is! We need any edge we can find to get out of here!"
"Buttering me up won't get you anywhere!" Asuna threatened. "I won't do it! You hear me? I won't! Your milk-smelling flappy white mouth sickens me! If there's anything I hate, that's whimpering smartass brats like you!"
Then she felt someone tugging on her right sleeve, and looked aside to see Chisame looking at her, biting her lower lip. "Please, Asuna... I'll do anything you want... But help me save my sister..."
Asuna paused, momentarily moved by her classmate's emotion, moving her mouth to start another objection but not finding the heart to actually do it as she noticed Chisame's glare grew more humbled and begging by the second. Then, finally, as if to break and ruin the dramatic mood, the ermine spoke again.
"Sis, are you that reluctant 'cause you've never kissed anyone before?"
Asuna blushed, then reacted violently, "Wh-What in the freaking world are you saying, you stinky vermin?-! Of course this wouldn't be my first kiss! I've kissed lots of people before!" she rather badly lied. "Lots and lots of handsome older men who actually smell and act as such! Pffft! As if a kiss with a shrimp like this would even faze me!"
"In other words, you're a slu—" Natsuki tensely began, the manic blood thirst boiling inside of her already.
"THAT'S NOT WHAT I MEANT!" Asuna protested, then fumbled, "Fine, fine, I get it! We're all but dead if I don't do it, right? What the hell. Let's get it over with then!" she sighed.
"Hooray!" Chamo cheered, quickly pulling his chalk out of his fur and drawing a circle on the rocky ground around Asuna and Negi in a blink. Baka Red scowled deeply as she followed the ermine's motions, standing right before her teacher, who was as flushed and nervous as her. Watching from the sidelines, Chisame breathed in and out, wondering what was that strange feeling in her chest now. She wanted for them to kiss, and yet, she couldn't help feeling badly about it. Why did she always have to watch how the brat kissed with other girls? Misora, Hakase, Misa, and now Asuna.
I'm not jealous, I can't be possibly jealous. Not over him… she repeated in her mind to calm down her nerves.
Asuna cringed in disgust, then lowered her head, directing her pink lips towards Negi's forehead. "O-Okay, here I go..."
"IT HAS TO BE ON THE MOUTH!" Chamo yelled at her.
"What?-! On THE MOUTH!-? NEVER!-!" Asuna roared. "No way! I prefer dying! No! I refuse! You'll never see me doing that!-!"
Natsuki jumped back on her feet, now drooling wildly. "I'll kill you all for the Master! Glory to the will of The Green!"
Now that was enough to finally convince Kagurazaka. After a very brief yelp, she grabbed Negi by his suit's lapels, and then roughly pulled him to herself, harshly stamping her lips over his.
Even through the overwhelming force of Asuna brushing her mouth against his and the panic about the quickly approaching Kuga-san, Negi vaguely noticed it wasn't actually working this time.
He wasn't feeling the same jolt of magical energy she had felt with Chisame, Misora, Satomi and Misa yet, and it had been nearly immediate all those other times. Chamo seemed to think so as well, his eyebrows quivering in nervous doubt even as Natsuki lurched slowly for them, struggling against her own urges to strike.
Chisame just aimed the scepter at her, gesturing for her to stay back. "Get a hold of yourself, Sempai! Weasel, how long is this going to take? The cards appeared just as they kissed all other times!"
"I honestly don't know!" Chamo complained. "Asuna-neechan, you sure you aren't faking the kiss?-!"
Asuna fumed mad even as he stubbornly kept on kissing, waiting for the promised payoff. This was her first kiss, and it was going to be wasted on that twerp, all for nothing? She refused to believe it! If Chisame had done it, she could do it, too!
"Maybe four is the top limit number of Ministrae he can have?" Hasegawa theorized. "He's only a kid, after all..."
"No, no, no!" Chamo insisted. "Dammit, we can't be cheated out of this...!"
Ah, Negi remembered, maybe what was lacking was that thing with the tongue Misa had done...
Asuna's eyes widened as she felt something worming inside of her mouth, teasing her tongue up and down, but before she could push him back in indignation, she felt as if her body was being shaken, and then everything seemed to explode in light around her.
"It's succeeding!" Chamo cheered, and even Chisame breathed easier now. Kuga stepped back, shielding her eyes from the light glowing all around the circle at random, almost sputtering intervals. "PACTIOOOOO!" the ermine cried.
The card materialized itself and floated down to his eager paws then, just as Asuna pulled her mouth way, rubbing the, indeed somewhat milky, flavor out of it. "Wh-Who taught you how to do THAT?-!"
"Misa-san," he candidly answered.
"Figures!" Asuna huffed. Right then, however, she was distracted by Natsuki pulling her guns back out and huffing, pointing them at her, breathing tumultuously.
"This host's will... was strong, but ultimately doomed..." she said. "Now The Green will claim you as well. The Green cannot be denied or stopped. Your world is about to end. Only we can save it."
Chisame gulped and got ready to fire her scepter at Kuga's head before she could shoot at them instead. She hadn't ever shot an actual human being before, but it was do or die, right? Better her than them, in any case. She was sure the courts would understand... Except for the whole magic part, maybe...
But before she even knew it, in a single swift motion, Negi had ducked under Natsuki's aim, no doubt aided by his small size, and took advantage of his staff's length (insert dirty joke here) to hit her squarely in the stomach, blowing the air out of her and knocking her unconscious.
Asuna blinked. Okay, now that had been pretty badass...
An impression quickly ruined when he made his best Kaga Ai impression and began to bow to the knocked out girl, time and time again, frantically apologizing, "I'm sorry! I'm sorry! I'm so sorry! I didn't mean to—! Well, I meant to, but I didn't want to—! It's just...! My students' safety—!"
"Sensei, it's okay," Chisame sighed, rubbing his left shoulder. "Thank you. I'm sure not even Kuga-sempai will hold this against you."
"Here, Sis! Your card!" Chamo offered the proof of the Pactio to Asuna, who received it with a curious blink. Chisame and Negi looked at it as well, noticing it showed Asuna in her school uniform, with a band aid on a cheek, smiling and half turned around, holding a huge sword up.
Cagurazaca Asuna. Bellatrix Sauciata.
"Huh, so this really works..." Kagurazaka marveled at the existence itself of the card. "And I get a cool sword like this, too? With no stupid dress like Chisame's?" she guessed.
"Yeah, basically, once you activate the Card," Chamo nodded.
"EXCUSE ME FOR HAVING A RIDICULOUS DRESS! IT WASN'T AS IF I PICKED IT PERSONALLY!" Chisame growled.
"Fine, fine. Whatever," she looked up and down at the Card. "And how do I activate it?"
Negi already had grabbed a protesting Chamo and turned around with him, looking away. "Just... just hold it and say Adeat"
She doubted, but Chisame made an urging gesture at her, and she decided, since she had gone that far, there was no point on not following on it.
Asuna held the card higher and shouted, "By the Power of Greyskull!"
Chisame glared knives at her.
A dumb giggle. "Sorry. Always wanted to do that." She repeated the procedure, now much more seriously. "Adeat!"
And then, after the obligatory flash of light and the disappearance and reappearance of her clothes (Chisame wondered why it had happened that time as well, since it was exactly the same school uniform Kagurazaka had worn before), Asuna found herself feeling much stronger than ever before... and with a giant folded paper fan between her hands.
After a few moments of stupefied silence, Asuna glared at Chamo. "Eh, weasel..."
"Ah?" the animal sweated a single huge drop.
"What the heck does this mean?-!" the redhead yelled. "I was promised a sword! Instead, I get this stupid looking harisen? What am I supposed to do, engage in a comedy routine with the monster when we find it?-!"
"I-I have no idea what went wrong!" Chamo said. "Maybe you didn't kiss the right way! Why don't you do it again?"
"No way!" Asuna huffed, piping mad. "Forget it! I'll take my chances with this. It's still kinda a weapon, isn't it?"
"Okay," Negi sighed. "Then let's make a beeline for the campus before nightfall, only fighting the 'Orphan' if we find it along the way. It's getting dark, but I'd still give us at least half an hour before the sun fully sets. Any of you have an idea if we can reach the campus on foot before that?"
Both girls shook their heads.
"We got too deep into the forest while fleeing those things," Asuna groaned. "I admit I'm lost as hell."
"I've never been around here before. I doubt anyone but Kaede, the twins and Mana knows the exact way from here to Mahora," Chisame completed.
"Tsk!" Chamo grinned, waving a furry finger. "Leave it to me! My keen animal senses will take care of that!"
He stood up on his hindquarters, smelt on the breeze carefully, then pointed southwards. "THE CLOSEST PAIR OF PANTIES IS THAT WAY!"
All three humans fell flat on their faces.
"I... I guess it's the results that count..." Chisame worked back to her feet.
"What will we do with Kuga-san?" Negi doubted. "We can't leave her here! She saved our lives back there!"
"Sensei, I can't carry her all the way, you can't either, never mind Chamo, and Asuna will need both hands free to fight our way through," Chisame told him. "We can't bring her with us yet. I don't like leaving her behind either, but what else can we do?"
"But— But—!" he protested.
She patted his right shoulder. "She'll be okay. No one ever comes this way, and even if they did, she can defend herself when she wakes up. Plus, what if we carry her and she wakes up and attacks us?"
"She's right, you know," Asuna nodded. "Let's go, Negi. There's no time to waste."
"Well…" he said, still not sounding convinced. They all ran back into the woods, which immediately came alive again, reassuming the attack on them from all sides. However, Asuna's fan proved to be much more efficient than it looked. With each swing, she pulverized the obstacles into tiny shreds even faster and more decisively than before, and with the added bonus of extra reach. Combined with Negi's spells and Chisame's blasts, they were having a much easier time now, even without Kuga's help.
"We're really doing it!" Asuna grinned while running after Chamo's sniffing lead. "Yeah, I think I could get used to this!"
But then the ermine stopped right on his tracks, the youngsters all screeching to a halt behind him.
"Oh, no," Negi said.
"Sora," Chisame panted, her mouth curving down again. "Sora, listen to me! Try to fight whatever is controlling you! I'm your sister! Neither of us should harm the other!"
The three girls blocking their way just grinned devilishly.
"The master is here," Fumika crooned.
"You're ours," Fuuka continued.
"The Green is alive. The Green shall claim this world," Sora chanted.
Rising up from behind them, floating up into the sights of Negi and his students, the small 'Orphan' looked down at them with its sharp dead eyes, making absolutely no sound at all. Then its short, stubby arms extended themselves into impossibly long thorny green whips, and they lashed ahead at them.
As the tendrils lashed down at them, Chamo was, perhaps not surprisingly, the first casualty. The humans barely managed to scramble out of the way in time, but the small animal was left behind long enough to fall prey to a vine tentacle that lifted him high up into the air, squeezing him tightly.
"Chamo!" Negi cried out, already preparing a spell but unsure of where to aim, since the tendril was swinging around wildly, making it hard to aim at a single particular spot.
"Bro, help meee!" the ermine pleaded as he was held into an extremely suggestive arching position. "Ooohhhh, wait... this is actually..." he moaned as he was twisted in a rather unlikely fashion, "... kinda kinky..." He gasped while the vines further tied him into a S&M-reminiscing manner, "Ah, I might get to like this..."
Asuna and Chisame's eyebrows quivered.
"Hasn't that thing ever attempted to molest you at night?" Asuna asked.
"He's still alive, isn't he?" Chisame asked back. "Look out!"
The twins jumped at them with a combined kick attack, but Asuna managed to block it with her fan, batting them aside while trying to hold herself back from actually hurting them. The hostile creature controlling them hovered closer, and Chisame attempted to blast it with her scepter, only for it to elude with relative ease, then catching her in a suddenly lashing tangle of vines that held her firmly in place. "Sensei!" she called out, a vine twisting her right wrist and attempting to make her drop her weapon.
"Hold on, Chisame-san!" Negi rushed to the rescue, only for Sora to take advantage of his distraction and tackle him from behind, a web of tendrils quickly wrapping itself around both of them, spraying spores all over him.
"Negi!" Asuna dashed for him, but she immediately had her way blocked by more plants. She whacked her way through with mad determination, but for each one she struck down, two more seemed to sprout from the ground. Stubbornly, she kept on hitting left and right, doing her best to keep them at bay. Out of the corner of her eyes, she saw Chisame was being bathed by spores as well, coughing and shaking as the green spots began to cover her skin. "Damn it! Guys, I need your help! I can't do this alone!"
Negi coughed as well, gripping his staff tightly, feeling dizzy and nauseous, the vine around his neck almost choking him while pushing his head back, Sora clutching to his back, further weighing him down with a devilish smile.
The back of his neck itched. It nearly burned, sending shivers of fire pumping through his veins. Something buzzed in the back of his head. He relaxed his body for a moment, going numb, almost surrendering down to the crushing weight coming both from his inside and his outsides. And then he heard Chisame's tiny, choked, suffocated voice, "Sen... sei..."
"Don't give up, Chisame!" Asuna stomped and pummeled ahead, whacking a path for herself with renewed vitality. "I'm almost there! I'll save you!"
Negi clenched his teeth, opening his eyes again, pulling his arms up, yanking on the vines with newfound energy, huffing and puffing loudly. "You won't... YOU WON'T HURT MY STUDENTS!"
Sora blinked as the vines actually snapped, and then the boy under her pulled himself out of her grasp, violently, even, making her to fall on her face into the grass as she lost the support of his body. "JOVIS... TEMPESTAS... FULGURIENS!" he roared, swinging his staff ahead and striking at the 'Orphan' with a full on lightning bolt on its rounded face. The creature made an aching, shrill sound, loosening its vines enough to allow Chisame drop down into an expecting Negi's arms below.
She coughed again, then weakly smiled, looking up at his face, reaching with a hand to softly stroke her fingers against his now greenish skin. "Sensei... Not you, too..."
He shakily smiled back. "I'm sorry... I couldn't do more..." His voice was slightly broken, even as it recovered from its short outburst of anger, sounding somewhat spaced out and unstable now.
The 'Orphan' swooped back down for them, baring a few sharp unevenly shaped teeth from the corners of its small mouth, but was stopped in midair when Chisame jerked an arm up and shot it with the scepter. "Asuna... *kaff*... now!"
"Okay!" a glint appeared in Kagurazaka's green eye, as she took impulse, then ran ahead and jumped as high as she could, swinging the harinsen around and hitting the 'Orphan' directly at the middle of its body, barely giving it any time to make a few jerky motions before exploding in a shower of emerald sparks. Asuna then perfectly landed on her feet behind Chisame and Negi, breathing hard. "10 POINTS!" she congratulated herself. "CRITICAL HIT! IT'S SUPER-EFFECTIVE!"
The vines holding Chamo suddenly dissolved into a mass of dark green puddle, roughly dropping him down into a mudhole. "Ahhhhh! And I was so close, too!" he cried.
Asuna stared at him. "Close to WHAT?"
"Ewww…" Chisame 'ewww'ed.
He sighed, shaking his head. "If I have to explain it to you, you wouldn't get it anyway..."
A few moments of regaining their breath and composing themselves quietly followed, before Chisame remembered she actually still was in a kneeing, panting and sweaty Negi's arms, and that was only when he gently lowered her down to the ground, almost collapsing on top of her due to the physical strain. She blinked, and then only ran a hand through his hair, calmly petting him. "Rest easy. I'm... proud of you, Sensei. I really am..."
Asuna snorted, despite being smiling at them. "Oh, this is rich. And here I thought Iincho had it bad, but who'd have thought you of all people would be the one to—"
Chisame glared at her. "Look, not that I'm not thankful, but I don't mock you, so I don't want you to—"
"Kidding! Just kidding!" Asuna interrupted her with a laugh. After that, she brushed her fingers over one of Hasegawa's cheeks. "Hey, look, the spots are vanishing. Looks like the deal is off once that thing is dead. Weirdly convenient, but I'm not complaining!"
Chisame carefully examined the dozed Negi's face, seeing he also was going back to normal. "You're right, thank God. Maybe now Sora... SORA!" she gasped, looking around for her sister. "How is she? Where is she?"
She finally found her lying in a mess of slimy green, covered by a puddle of melting and withering vines, weakly coughing while crawling ahead. Her head bobbed up to both sides as her voice still croaked with a few final vestiges of the will of the being controlling her.
"It's coming. It's coming..." she muttered over and over.
"Sora, relax. Breath deeper. We're going to heal you," Chisame promised, carefully setting Negi aside and approaching her. Sora just groaned and slapped away the hand she was offering her.
"What's coming?" Asuna humorlessly asked.
"The end," the voice speaking through Sora's throat threatened. "The worlds will die. The Green suffers. Soon you too," she gurgled before dropping down on her face. "Soon you too," she finished before it died at last, and she fell into blissful unconsciousness.
"... Yeah, right. Crazy thing," Asuna dismissed it.
"Sora!" Chisame tried to pick her up, shaking her up in panic. "Sora, don't die on me like this!"
"She'll be okay..." Negi promised, blinking groggily and getting back to his feet, placing a hand on his roommate's right shoulder. "Asuna-san, how are the twins?"
Asuna was kneeling down next to the Narutakis, who had also fallen asleep after the 'Orphan's' demise. She touched their foreheads and checked their breathing. "I think they aren't in any danger. Hey, do you think they'll remember any of this when they wake up?"
"If they do, they'll simply get their memories erased, won't they?" a voice cynically asked from between the now quiet trees. They all looked there to see Kuga Natsuki, seemingly back to normal, with barely any spots left on her. She spoke with gruff annoyance bordering utter loathing. "That's what mages do. Erasing their traces like cowards."
Asuna stayed perfectly still for a moment before asking Negi, "You erase memories?"
He cringed uncomfortably. "I'm supposed to do that if I'm ever found out, but..."
"You won't erase my memory, you damned brat!" Asuna shielded her head with her hands. "Like I don't have enough gaps in it as it is!"
"You do?" Chisame asked with genuine curiosity.
"None of your biz!" Asuna growled.
"Relax, he won't be erasing anything as long as you don't tell anyone," her classmate told her. "Right, Sensei?"
"Um, right," he turned back to Natsuki and bowed. "My most sincere thanks, Kuga-san. Without you, we'd have been subdued for sure back there..."
Chamo jumped up. "Hey, hey, Biker-sis! Wouldn't you like having a Pactio with my Bro too? I can tell you're a real scrapper! The Bro could use someone with your skills at his side, and surely you could use his help as well!"
She sneered, angrily. "I'll never partner up with a mage. I hate mages more than anything else in the world."
She curtly turned around and began to stomp away.
Negi, his students and his pet all stood frozen in confusion for a moment, before Chamo protested, "B-B-But why?-!"
She stopped, abruptly looking back at them. "You really want to know? Fine. Eight years ago... my mother was murdered by a mage."
Negi jerked back in horrified shock, his face going blank white. Chisame gulped aloud, instinctively tightening Sora's body against herself. Asuna only looked stupefied, and Chamo's jaw hit the grass.
"My mother conducted research into unexplained phenomena all over the world, the handiwork of your people, " Kuga icily told Negi. "They found her and erased her memories more than once, but she was smarter than you. She would always keep copies and backups of her labors, stashed away with people she could trust... or so she thought. Time after time she would restart, because she truly believed we all had a right to know. She was a brave and selfless woman, who never harmed a soul. Until that day..." she growled, "When a stranger broke into our home..."
She looked away, her right hand trembling as it gripped one of her guns much tighter. "I have my reasons to believe my mother's murderer may be on these grounds. I don't know who it could be, but when I meet that person... I'll avenge her, no matter who it is," she promised, with the intensity of someone who has nothing left to lose.
"D-Don't say such nonsense!" Asuna sputtered. "As if the Dean would ever hide a murderer in here!"
Natsuki briefly rubbed her eyes before looking at her again, in a sharp, nearly hateful, way. "Why? Because he's been so nice to you? Because of the infinite goodness of his heart? Do you think he's taken care of you just because he's that good a person?"
Asuna frowned very deeply. "As if he ever could have any other motive. There's nothing special about me at all. I'm nothing but an orphan with nothing to offer to someone like him!"
Kuga shrugged callously and started to walk away once more. "Maybe you're right."
"Kuh—- KUGA-SAN!" Negi could finally call out.
"You're wrong! There must be some mistake! We never would have done such a thing! Mages are here to help mankind, not to hurt anyone!" he protested.
Again, she gave him a low key, mildly threatening glare. "My beef isn't with you. You were little more than a baby when... that happened. But if you ever get in my way, I won't give it a second thought before pushing you aside..."
He still shouted, "Mages aren't enemies of mankind! No matter what you may think, I know you must be in a mistake! Reconsider it! Don't ruin your life following a road of revenge!"
She humphed and took her glare away. "You shouldn't talk, brat. You're as obsessed with your father as I'm with my mother."
He paled anew. "H-How do you—"
Chisamed asked her, "If you hate mages so much, why to help a mage right now?"
"It was nothing but a favor to a common friend," she droned, quickly disappearing between the trees. "But for your own sake, forget this all ever happened. We all will be better off that way."
They all remained in baffled silence for long tense moments after her depart, a silence only broken by Asuna finally shaking a fist and barking, "You loon! Konoka's grandpa would never do such a thing!"
"That…" Chisame considered. "That was probably the most racist thing I've heard. Seriously, that's like hating all… oh, Jews or Americans because one of them hurt you. Seriously, what sort of damaged person would harbor such irrational hatred for a group of people just because of the actions of one of them?"
Somewhere, Batman, Magneto, thousands of villains with lousy attempts at sympathetic revenged-based backstories and a pair of Uchihas all sneezed.
As Negi continued silent and unmoving, perplexed, Chisame sighed and put her card on her forehead. "I suppose I can call Misora up for a lift now..."
Chamo looked around, seeming suddenly tense and worried again. "Better hurry up, Sis. I have this odd sensation we're still are being watched..."
Deeper into the woods, Tsunetsuki Matoi leaned against a tree trunk and inhaled deeply, cold sweat running down her forehead.
The stalker had suffered through long hours of aimlessly wandering across the hills looking for her beloved little Negi, until finally stumbling into the odd chance of seeing him and those really weird girls from afar, fighting a tiny monster for their very lives. And using what obviously was magic.
What was happening there? Was she going insane? Were the counselors right after all? Was this a computer simulation, and next she'd be asked to pick the red pill or the blue one?
She dropped down to her knees, trembling violently for a few minutes, unable to move away or act, overwhelmed by the revelation. Long minutes passed.
Slowly, she smiled to herself.
Ooohhhhh, that only made him even more attractive... !
She was sure he'd tell her when the right moment came.
Sora could have sworn she heard someone whispering random things about magic and secrets as she woke up. Even so, her ears still rang too much, and her head still felt too heavy and aching, for her to trust anything her numbed senses were picking up as she struggled to get up, sitting on the bed and allowing the covers to drop off her torso and onto her lap. She rubbed her scalp with a hand, wondering why exactly it still ached so much.
Then she realized she was not alone when Chisame almost jumped onto her, wrapping her in a hug the likes of which they had not shared since they were little children. "Sora...!"
"Uh? Hm?" she fumbled around for her glasses, sneaking an arm out of her younger sister's tight grasp, feeling around until she found them over a nearby night stand. With a clumsy motion, she put them on and was able to see all the young faces gathered around her.
"Hakase-san, " she recognized Chisame's roommate, whom she had met last year. "Is this your—" she looked around and noticed all the spare parts, computer equipment, and what looked suspiciously like a canister with radiation hazards symbols on it filling up the place. "Yes, still the same, I see..." she said, slowly blinking.
Negi smiled, looking at the good natured and awkward demeanor of the older Hasegawa. Now that was much more like the girl he had spoken with over the phone. A warm, well-intentioned person who just happened to fall short of her younger sister's expectations. He was pretty sure the influence was over right then.
"Sora-san," he greeted with a polite bow. "It's nice to meet you in person. I'm Negi Springfield, Chisame-san's homeroom teacher."
The young woman looked at him in awe. "My God, you're even younger than I expected..." she mouthed before stuttering, "I-I mean no offense! It's great for someone of your age to have achieved that much!"
The one of the twins lying at her side got up groggily almost at the exact same time, rubbing her head. "Waiii, what happened to us...?" Fumika whined.
Next to her, Fuuka frowned and snuggled closer, trying to pull her down back into the bed. "Fumika, not yet.." she murmured. "Nee-chan needs her snuggles…"
"NEE-CHAN!" Fumika practically shrieked. "WAKE UP!"
Fuuka winced, but was persuaded to open her eyes. "Ow, my head… what did Kaede-neechan give us and what and how many times did we do it as a result…? The last thing I remember is walking through the forest, and stumbling on a root..."
"The three of you inhaled a mildly toxic spore from a very rare variety of local wild plant," Hakase explained, technically telling them the truth. "We have managed to purge said toxins out of your system, in a way I'd be highly interested in explaining but I've been told you most likely won't have the next eight hours available for. In short, I would suggest not venturing out into the wilderness alone and without a guide again. Oh, and also, I advice a good long night of rest and one daily dose of these suppositories for the next week..." she held up a small box.
Sora, Fuuka and Fumika all paled in horror.
"Ahem," Misa coughed, trying to change the subject. "Anyway, it's good to see you're all okay. Do you remember me, Sora-neechan? I'm Kakizaki Misa, captain of the cheerleading team! We gave a really cool show for the assembled parents and relatives last time you were here! You remember it, don't you?"
Sora looked at her for a few minutes before mutely shrugging in admission of her ignorance. Misa briefly looked perplexed, then drooped her shoulders down with a weary sigh. "We poured all our hearts into that routine..."
"I'm very sorry," Sora sincerely lamented.
"Misa-chan, where are Sakurako-chan and Madoka-chan?" Fuuka asked.
"At practice," Misa quickly lied.
"And why aren't you too?" Fumika questioned.
"Because I'm that damn good."
"Who found us in the forest?" Fuuka wanted to know. "Mana-chan?"
"A sempai who happened to be walking around there," Misora said from where she sat lounging with Cocone on Negi's rarely-used-anymore futon. "Kaga, wasn't it?"
"Kuga," Asuna corrected, standing near the bed with her arms crossed.
"The biker girl?" Fuuka blinked.
"She's a bit scary," Fumika added, "But now I guess she's a good person after all..."
"Oh my God!" Sora gasped in visible terror. "NOW I REMEMBER!"
"WHAT?-!" Negi, Chisame, Asuna, Hakase, Misora, Misa, and even Cocone all cried out at once.
"I... I.." she hugged her little sister back, even more tightly, and bawled, "I FORGOT YOUR BIRTHDAY'S TODAY! HAPPY BIRTHDAY, CHIU-CHAN!"
Misora's eyebrows twitched. "... Chiu-chan?"
Sora sniffed loudly. "Y-Yeah, that was the nickname we gave her when she was little. She couldn't pronounce 'Chisame' until she was—"
"THERE YOU ARE AGAIN, REVEALING SAYING TOO MUCH!" Chisame quickly pulled back. "PLEASE, SORA...!"
"S-S-Sorry..." her sister sniffed. "I suppose I got carried away again..."
"Chiu? Like the famous, glamorous, totally hot Internet idol?" Misa put a finger on her chin. "What a coincidence. Come to think about it, you even look a bit alike..."
Chisame choked in her saliva.
"You are a Chiu fan, Misa-san?" Negi asked her.
"Totally. You too, Negi-kun?" the cheerleader grinned. "The girls and I take all sorts of neat ideas for dresses and stuff out of her webpage. Her beauty tips are very useful, too..."
Misora chuckled in a devilish way. "Yeah, I agree. You could take a few, Chisame. I'm sure they'd help you with those skin problems of yours..."
"Man, that's one girl I'd be lesbian for," Misa continued to reminisce. "She's totally a CILF."
"CILF?" Misora prompted, grin growing wider.
"Yeah. Chick I'd Like to Fu–"
"WE HAVE MINORS IN THE ROOM! "Chisame cried, doing her best to hold her fists at her sides, forcing herself to keep the veins on her head down.
Sora looked at the sprinter and her small companion. "Forgive my bad memory, but who are you, again?"
"I'm Kasuga Misora, track and field star, and this is my little buddy Cocone-chan," she proudly patted the dark skinned child's head as she waved a hand quietly.
"My pleasure," Sora bowed and turned her attentions to Asuna. "And, you—?"
"Kagurazaka Asuna!" the redhead vivaciously replied, before smiling widely and fondly saying, "One of Chisame's friends."
"I see," the college student nodded. "Chisame-chan?"
"Yes?" she grumbled.
"I'm so happy for you. In the last year, you've made so many good friends. More than me, I must admit," she reached up with a hand, softly caressing Chisame's right temple. "I'm sorry I've been such a weak, useless older sister. I know you deserved better. I even stayed away because I knew I was weak, and I was afraid you wouldn't want to see me ever again. I never should have done that," she lowered her face ruefully. "I was negligent and stupid, a true failure as a sister. I bet I even lost that cake I was bringing over for you when I fainted..."
Asuna nodded, holding Sora's handbag up and pulling out a crumpled down, ruined white box with a cake sign painted on it.
Sora sulked down even more. "I just knew it...!"
"Now, now, don't be so sad," Negi tried to cheer her up. "We already had some cake ready here..."
Fuuka pouted. "Sensei, you're so bad! And you too, Chiu-chan! You were going to have a birthday party complete with cake without inviting us!"
"Don't call me 'Chiu-chan'!" Chisame protested. Oh god, it's going to spread…!
"It was going to be a simple private celebration. Chisame usually prefers it that way..." Satomi spoke up again.
"But that's boring!" Fumika said. "Let's bring on Kaede-neechan and Konoka-chan, and Iincho and everyone else!"
"Yeah!" Fuuka cried. "Let's get wild! And if certain things end up developing…"
"We have neither the space nor the cake for that many people!" Chisame stated.
Then someone knocked at the front door. "I'll get it," Negi said, going to open it and finding Ako and Akira at the doorstep, the tall swimmer holding another, middle-sized cake between her hands.
"Good evening," the assistant nurse shyly said, keeping her arms crossed behind her back. "We hope we aren't intruding, Sensei, but after learning Chisame-san's birthday was tonight, we decided to bring her something for her. It isn't much, but it's the best we could do in such a short notice..."
Fuuka peeked over at them, making a gigantic mischievous grin. "Now there's enough cake for everyone! Let's call on all the class! Class 2-A, ASSEM-BLE!"
"Absolutely not!" Chisame shouted.
"Come on!" Fumika pleaded. "We promise you'll have lots of fun!"
"Yeah!" Fuuka agreed, clamping on to her sister from behind and grinning up at Chisame. "Lots of fun…"
"Your ideas of fun and mine are incompatible!" the youngest Hasegawa barked.
"You won't know for sure until you've tried it, Chiu-chan!" Fuuka teased, winking as she held her blushing sister tighter. "Who knows? You and Sora-neechan might end up really bonding!-!-!"
"I told you to stop using that name with me!" It's going to spread, and keep spreading… I should have thrown the brat out the window the first chance I got…
All the while, Sora simply smiled happily.
Chisame hadn't been that lively in nearly a decade.
After the small (thanks to Chisame's continued efforts on keeping it that way) celebration had finished, and Ako, Akira, Fuuka and Fumika had left, Sora had excused herself to take a shower, Chisame had taken the opportunity to gather everyone away from her sister and continue debating the points they had been touching on as Sora and the twins slept.
"Then, what are we going to do about this? I don't want to sound like a broken record, but Kuga sounded awfully serious about her beliefs," she whispered. "I don't think we can discard the fact of another evil mage being on the loose at these grounds, especially after the incident with Eva."
"What if Eva herself was the one who killed Kuga-sempai's mother?" Misa asked, also keeping her voice low.
"I dunno, she said she didn't kill women or children, and the stories about her tend to agree on that part," Misora muttered. "Plus Kuga said it happened eight years go. Evangeline says she's been stuck here for longer. Besides, what motive could she have? She's the kind who'd want someone like a paranormal investigator to know about her so she can strike terror into people's hearts."
"What? What?" Asuna blinked without a clue. "Evangeline's a wizard too?"
"A centuries old vampire witch," Cocone nodded.
Asuna grimaced. "No, really, what the hell? What's next? Chizuru is a Nazi? Zazie is a demon? Madoka is one of the mole people? Chao is an alien? Nodoka is a boy in disguise? Chachamaru is a robot?"
Satomi scowled. "Chachamaru IS a robotic life-form."
"She IS?-!" Kagurazaka's jaw fell.
Satomi scowled even more for a second before suddenly brightening up with a huge smile. "So! She IS convincing enough to pass for a human!"
"No, everyone in our class is just too self-absorbed to pay attention to the fact she has metal where her ears should be," Chisame said.
"Enough nonsense!" Misora waved a hand. "Look, Chisame, I'm with Asuna on one thing; no way the Dean would allow a murderer to stay at campus under his protection. No two ways about it."
"Exactly!" the redhead nodded.
"But what if he doesn't know that person is a killer?" Misa asked them.
"As if," Kasuga snorted. "He may look goofy and absent minded, but in reality, he has freaking eyes on his back. Nothing escapes him."
"He did a whole lot of nothing when Evangeline attacked us," Chisame pointed out. "Honestly, he's not Dumbledore! I doubt he knows everything that's happening on campus and has some kind of elaborate plan to wipe out the forces of evil by gathering the Hocruxes!-!"
"Then..." Negi finally spoke up again, hesitant and sounding troubled once more, "Who do you think killed Kuga-san's mother?"
"We can't know with so little info on it," Misora shrugged. "How does she even know it was a mage anyway? Did she even get to see that person at all?"
"She didn't say, but I guess she either got a bad look or nothing at all. Otherwise, that's not the kind of face you'd easily forget," Chisame replied. "Unless someone just told her. If it happened eight years ago, then she'd be young and impressionable and do something really stupid like swear vengeance for the rest of her life."
Batman, an Uchiha, several hundred angsty avenger types and Negi all sneezed. (Un)fortunately, Misora had been quick enough to smother his face with a pillow, and no one lost their clothes.
"Trust me, you don't want to see him really sneeze," Chisame told a staring Asuna.
"Well, we can't do anything about it without knowing more than that," Misora said, throwing down the pillow.
"You're right!" Negi stood up with determination. "Then, let's find the truth about it!"
"Th-That's not what I wanted to mean!" Kasuga gasped. "Why don't we let it pass? It's none of our business! Maybe she'll just get over it by herself!"
"Now I really can agree with you," the birthday girl nodded, resting her back against a wall. "Trying to look for someone whose already killed once screams Darwin Award levels of stupidity."
"Besides, angsty-avenger types like that tend to get real annoyed when they think you're interfering or, heaven forbid, trying to get them the psychiatric help they need!" Asuna said. Everyone looked at her. "What? Konoka's library club, Haruna sometimes comes over, some things rubbed off…"
"But as a mage, my duty is to help those with grave problems, and she's my student too... at least when she attends classes..." Negi pouted.
"Hooo boy, there we go. When he puts his mind on something, there's no stopping him," Misa chuckled before giving Asuna a sidelong glance. "Welcome to the team in any case, Asuna-chan."
The taller girl grimaced. "Team? Whoa, whoa, aren't you going too fast here?"
"We're Sensei's helpers!" Misa smiled, patting Negi's head with a hand.
"Harem," Cocone whispered under her breath.
Misora looked at her. "Did you just say something?"
"You don't have to do anything you don't want to, Asuna-san, but since you already know about the world of magic, maybe you would like to learn more about it, " Negi offered. "These things are best either untouched or explored all the way, as long as it's done in a safe manner," he cautioned. "But if an incident like today's ever happens again, it pays off to be well prepared and knowing what to do."
"Wow…" Misa said, drooling slightly. "That kinda reminds me about that lecture with the banana and cond–"
Chisame threw the pillow at her.
"So, it's actual magic, huh..." Asuna looked mildly interested now. "Can I use magic to win Takahata-sensei's love?"
"Using magic for such ends is never a good idea..." Negi said. "I mean, Shakespeare wrote a play about it and everything, we're actually taking it up in class soon…"
"But it can be done, right?" Asuna pressed on.
"Yes, it can!" Chamo devilishly sweetened the deal.
"Then I'm in!" Kagurazaka smirked.
"You're 'in' what?" Sora peeked her head out of the bathroom while toweling her wet hair off.
"N-Nothing!" Chisame stammered as everyone else bit their tongues. "Just planning our, uh, club activities for the weekend!"
"I thought you didn't belong to a club, Chisame..." her sister blinked.
"It's a club we've just formed!" Misa piped in. "The, hmm, Society for— for—"
"We are the British Culture Research Club," Cocone calmly stated. "As a native of that country, Negi-sensei acts as our current sponsor and leader figure."
"Oh," the college student paused before smiling, "That sounds very, uh, cool! It's great you have those interests! Very formative!" she approved before pulling herself back into the bath.
The group breathed a collective sigh of relief.
"You really have to work on your cover stories more," Cocone suggested.
Interlude Zwei: Konoka Again
"Where IS Asuna?-!" Konoka fretted. "Her dinner's stone cold!"
Setsuna decided that Asuna would have hell to pay for making Konoka sad…
Sora found the bed to be too small for her liking.
She lay with her eyes open and fixed on the ceiling above, with Chisame lying at her left, facing away from her and toward the wall, occasionally making small mouth motions, as if trying to chew or kiss something. She still slept the same way as when she was a child. Quiet and silent, but still restless in her own subdued way.
Then the college student felt something worming into the upper bunk, startling her. Chisame stirred and half opened her eyes, quickly finding the small figure crawling between them amidst the darkness. "Ah. Never mind. Just Sensei," she yawned indifferently. "Does that all the time. Used to sleep with his sister."
"Sis," Negi exhaled contently as he rolled towards Chisame, who mechanically opened her arms to welcome him against her body. Sora stared, in slight shock, as the child relaxed onto her sister's frame, the teenager cradling him in a loose embrace. Chisame had always rejected physical contact of any kind.
Yet, the older girl said nothing as they both fell fully asleep again. She only kept on looking, and thinking and thinking, until finally, with a relenting sigh, she cuddled closer and wrapped a protecting arm around them, resting her chin on the top of Chisame's head. Slowly, she allowed herself to fall into a deep sleep as well…
Then started as another body suddenly caused the bunk to shift, and Hakase came in on Chisame's other side. The scientist cuddled behind the other girl, instantly falling asleep, muttering indistinct words. What was that about cherry blossoms?
Sora just had to wonder what exactly would have gone on if she hadn't been there…
Elsewhere, at the same time:
Shiho sighed as she and Mana continued scanning the forest area from their hiding spot, her tall Sempai still waiting and watching, scanning the area with her night vision binoculars while always keeping her sniper rifle ready and in position.
"Oneesama..." the small girl finally let a whine out.
"What?" Tatsumiya whispered.
"Are you sure this is really the last place where the 'Orphan' was sighted?"
Shiho paused, rubbed her sleepy eyes, and added, "Well, I don't know about you, but I have a hunch it must have gone somewhere else in the woods..."
"Those random explosions could have been anything… probably that Daidouji girl and her friend setting off fireworks and making videos again…"
Next day, after classes, Misa excused herself to the other cheerleaders again before going to rejoin Negi and the other Pactio partners at the train station. Asuna clearly looked as if she had no idea what was she doing there, but still chose to stay as Hasegawa Sora said her goodbyes to everyone.
"Goodbye, Hakase-san. Please keep on looking after Chisame," she told the genius, squeezing her hands with concern.
"I will," Satomi nodded with a perfectly serious expression on her face.
"It's the other way around!" Chisame snorted.
"Negi-sensei, promise me no matter what, you'll stay at Chisame's side, guiding her in my absence," the amateur mechanic asked the boy next, now squeezing his shoulders tightly.
"Of course!" he firmly said. "Um, that is unless I get fired or something…"
Then Sora addressed the others. "Kasuga-san, Cocone-chan, Kagurazaka-san, Kakizaki-san... Please tell the twins goodbye for me. I had a real lot of fun with them, and they shouldn't beat themselves up over what happened."
"I'm sure they aren't going to," Chisame huffed.
Her older sister sadly smiled at her. "Chisame..."
Sora grabbed her in a surprise bear hug, sniffing loudly. "Continue being such a lovely lady, I beg you. You have some wonderful friends, so don't ever let them down. Please, succeed where I failed. Keep the love of all those around you."
Chisame's face twitched for a few moments, then she pushed Sora back. "P-Please! You're embarrassing me!"
Then she looked at the wetness on her sister's eyes, despite her clumsy attempts to wipe it off before she realized it, and she regretted her words, lowering her head. "I mean... you aren't a failure. So... stop treating yourself like one."
She hesitated, then lunged ahead to hug Sora back. "You aren't a failure. Your friends are weird too, but I'm sure they love you for what you are. Stop berating yourself over everything. In truth... I don't hold anything against you."
"Chisame..." she gasped, the wetness returning in full force.
"The train's about to depart," Cocone quietly observed.
"That's your cue," Chisame briefly pecked her sister's forehead, then all but pushed her away. "C'mon, it's not like we'll never meet again. I'll need your signed authorization for the class trip, so let yourself drop by again in a few weeks, okay?"
"Huh? Why not to ask Mom and—"
"I'm not that desperate," Chisame icily commented. "Take care, Sora."
"Yeah. You too, Chisame-chan."
As the train disappeared in the distance, not even Misora, Misa and Chamo dared to say anything about the wetness on Chisame's face as she continued waving goodbye.
"I love you," she whispered, believing she was far enough for no one to listen.
"I love you, Imouto-chan," Sora whispered while sinking down into her seat, rubbing her eyes for a few minutes before perking up in alert. "Oh, no! I forgot Tamiya-sempai's cake!"
That night. Elsewhere at Mahora.
"Oneesama, for the last time, please, before you do anything you'll regret! Are you sure about this?"
"The new Grail War is all upon us. The end times are coming, Sakura," the pigtailed young woman in the short black skirt and the tight red sweater spoke sternly, her green eyes shining sharply. "The omens are clear! Twilight had a movie run! Simon Cowell really left American Idol! They finally released that movie based on the 4th Light Novel in that series by Tanigawa Nagaru! There is no escape. When the World of Magic comes crashing down, it'll drag its mortal sibling with itself. The only thing any of us can do is to stand and fight. And for that, I'll need a strong Servant, the best of them all. Only through our victory and mastery over the Holy Grail, will we manage to turn the tides in time."
The younger, bustier girl behind her sighed with resignation. "Whatever you say, Onee-sama. Though…"
"Do we have to do this in the living room? We might break the TV!"
"Oh, for pity's sake…!"
The next several minutes were spent constructively moving the TV a safe distance away. Their dormitory consisted of a single small building only for the two of them. Such were the advantages of coming from such a prestigious, powerful family. No one would disturb the ritual. Tohsaka Rin took her place in the center of the large circle drawn on the floor and closed her eyes, extending a fist up and holding an open book at her other hand, despite the fact she recited the lines from memory.
"Let thy body rest under my dominion, let my Fate rest in thy blade. If thou submittest to the call of the Holy Grail and if thou wilt obey this mind, this reason, then thou shalt respond.""
Sakura stared, aghast and yet prey to a morbid, wide-eyed fascination, at how the marks appeared on the back of her older sister's closed right fist. Rin's skirt fluttered up as the air around them grew heavier, smelling slightly of gas, and the circle beneath her began to faintly glow in scarlet. She actually was doing it!
"I make my oath here. I am that person who is to become the virtue of all Heavens. I am that person who is covered with the evil of all Hades. Thou seven heavens, clad in a trinity of words, come past thy restraining rings, and be thou the hands that protect the balance-!"
The red haze grew almost blinding as Rin tightened the fist up and squeezing the sharp gem in her palm, a single drop of blood falling from her hand, touching the circle and making it burn to life, its blinding light engulfing Rin for a second, forcing Sakura to step back.
And then their roof exploded with an earth shaking boom.
A few blocks away, Negi woke up, blinked groggily, and looked through the nearest window. "Izzat a sudden magic outburst...?" he mumbled.
Chisame grumbled and pulled him back into the bed. "Shaddap an' sleep. We've a long day ahead tomorrow..."
As Sakura regained her sight, she saw her sister sitting flat on her butt, her hair a mess, a few steps away, staring at the column of dark purple smoke right under the hole at their roof, and the small figure standing on the middle of said smoke.
"I am the terror that flaps in the night..." a voice called from there.
"A Vigilante class!" Rin guessed with a panicked, yes, panicked gulp the likes of which Sakura had never heard from her. "A Vigilante class! But... But I wanted a Saber!"
"I am the winged scourge that pecks at your nightmares!" the voice continued, a long purple cape flapping around dissipating the smoke away.
"Vigilantes are good for search, capture and sabotage assignments, but they aren't exactly the best fighters! Not like StrikerS!" Rin lectured as if Sakura didn't know any of that already, although it didn't sound like she was exactly talking to her either. If anything, it sounded more like desperate sheer venting out. "And this one's too small!"
"… It's a duck," Sakura incredulously stated.
"I am... The Vigilante!" the small caped and hatted figure proudly announced, his blue eyes sparkling with arrogance, and he stroke a dynamic heroic pose with his fists perched at his hips. "So, which one of you is my Master?"
The sisters remained perfectly still and silent for a few minutes, until Sakura slowly pointed at Rin, then warily asked her, "By the way, Oneesan... When it's time to recharge his Mana...?"
Rin paled a few shades down, then fainted on place like a choked Victorian damsel.
The mysterious masked figure looked down at her. "... Are you sure she's up to the task?"
Sakura inhaled as deeply as she could and forced herself to remember things could be worse.
She could have been sent to live with the Matous, after all. Or heaven forbid, the Itoshikis!
And at least they moved the TV…
Next: Love Potion Number 69!
In Two Chapters: Library Island!